Article: A Look at Castle from a Shakespeare Perspective

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“Murder; mystery: the macabre.” At Richard Castle’s book signing soiree, Rick’s book agent, his ex-wife Gina, describes to the eager fans the tenets of Rick’s genre.

Now, Rick Castle’s shadowing and sleuthing with Detective Kate Beckett features other elements including: corruption, comic relief; tragedy; romance; parallel plots and sub plots; puns; jesters; political intrigue; power struggles; poison.

Additionally, “Castle” features: bloody mayhem; bantering lovers; bribery; camaraderie; deception; double dealing; tragic flaws and father-daughter relationships. In fact, “Castle” sounds like a Shakespearean play.

Easy to see Rick Castle and Kate Beckett as a bantering Benedict and Beatrice from Shakespeare’s comedy “Much Ado About Nothing,” both sets of couples in love but denying it, proving that the course of true love never runs smoothly. And modern Kate Beckett, as a strong female in a testosterone-laden police precinct, is cut from the same cloth as Beatrice, a strong-minded Renaissance woman.

Just pronounce “Nothing,” the way it was said in Shakespeare’s era, and we have the word “noting,” meaning observing. Rick “notes,” indeed, and to hear FBI agent Jordan Shaw describe it, among others, Rick surely does note or observe Kate…a lot.

Who can resist comparing Kate, at least in name only, to another Kate, the single-minded female lead in “The Taming of the Shrew,” not that we want to call our Kate a shrew. However, we do have the battle of the sexes in Shakespearean drama, so too in “Castle.” Could Rick be another Petruchio?

One thing for sure, Rick is a Renaissance man, well- read and versed, lover, and man about town; master of letters, poetry and writing, witticisms, fencing, and sport, not to mention trivia of all sorts… and gadgets. Also Rick is a writer of mystery, romance and intrigue, and as you like it type novels.

Even the regal and elegant names Richard and Katharine fit the period. Now Rick’s last name Castle is too obvious, but Kate Beckett’s last name also has possibilities. Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry II in the 1100s comes to mind, a friend of the king’s, appointed to Archbishop to support the king in his power struggles with the Pope.

But Becket rises to the occasion and becomes his own man, his own priest, defending the church and defying Henry, Becket, a lone priest, a man standing tall, murdered by Henry’s henchmen in the cathedral where Thomas bravely awaits the onslaught, in the ultimate political, power- struggle, indeed, an assassination with major political repercussions and intrigue.

On another note, perhaps merely the name dropping of “King Lear” will suffice, for in Lear and other Shakespearean plays, we do see strong or unusual father-daughter relationships. Cordelia is her father’s redemption. However, don’t carry this analogy beyond the superficial.

Rick’s and Alexis’s relationship is precious, and she is all a father could want, she, too, though, her father’s redemption, all too often saving Rick…from himself.

Also, political intrigue, assassination; corruption, deception, and betrayal are prevalent in several “Castle” dramas, with “Law and Murder,” episode 19, coming to mind for very particular reasons, with its tragic undertones, foreshadowing, indeed, presaging the powerful conclusion to season three.

Starting at its zenith, the corruption in the “play” eventually manifests itself on all levels, filtering down to Alexis, causing her father to declare to his beloved daughter:”I don’t know whether to be angry or proud.”

Ultimately, and in Shakespearean fashion, Rick has been spying on his darling daughter, although ever the modern dad, tracking her every move with a special app on his smart phone. Of course, Kate is aghast with Rick’s behavior, and gets him to see the error of his spying and invasion of privacy.

But Alexis lies to her father about her destination and activities, actually returning to a boutique to cover for and pay for the shop lifting adventures of her friends. She will not divulge their names, and again Rick feels “angry and proud.”

“If you didn’t take anything, why did you feel responsible?” Rick asks Alexis.

“It was the right thing to do.”

Alexis’s response is the crux of the drama. What is right and responsible? What is noble and honorable? Men have struggled with these universal truths since the beginning of time.

A late season three entry, and with only six more episodes until the powerful season finale, “Law and Murder” revolves around the issue of personal responsibility, morality, nobility, honor, starting with the murder of Joe Mc Usic, described by Rick as “an honorable man,” a reformed man who sends evidence to Louis Karnacki, the District Attorney who is trying Otis Williams, accused of killing a wealthy and influential man’s daughter.

Exonerating Williams, Mc Usic’s evidence incriminates another politically connected man; however, the District Attorney ignores the evidence, and with no other recourse, Joe Mc Usic bribes his way on to the jury in order to influence the outcome and to save an innocent man. For his nobility, Joe pays dearly with his life, poisoned by the true killer; the victim’s brother.

As they do in Shakespearean tragedy, the sub-plots accumulate. The District Attorney Louis Karnacki is running for mayor and needs the financial backing of the wealthy father; and Williams, a petty criminal and perennial loser is expendable.

With an age- old excuse, Karnacki rationalizes: “It is for the greater good.” Karnacki now attempts to bribe Captain Montgomery, with a post as Police Commissioner after he, with the captain’s bought silence is elected mayor.

All that Montgomery need do is be quiet and let an innocent man be sentenced. Corrupt, power hungry and self- aggrandizing, the District Attorney informs Montgomery: “It is how it is played; you know that.”

Captain Montgomery does the right thing, however, demands the bloody evidence, and makes no compromises. But with our hindsight, and Castle’s season three finale impending, the tragic irony is breath-taking and heart-breaking.

We speak of tragedies so readily in everyday life, but one important descriptor is constant when we dare say tragedy. It is a tragedy if something dire happens to an innocent or a basically good person.

We must care for this person and grieve for all of his lost potential to do good, his abilities and inner resources to otherwise live a rich and fulfilling life.

In drama or in adult life, circumstances become tragic when the person takes a wrong turn, makes a horrible decision, leading to his ultimate downfall and destruction. The protagonist is often guided by his basic make up and a tragic flaw such as vaulting or blinding ambition; ruthlessness; moral ambiguity; misplaced trust; childish idealism or poor judgment.

Sometimes to relieve the intensity of the impending and spiraling tragedy that the audience anticipates or is experiencing with devastation, the playwright employs comic relief or some other amusing scenes, allowing the audience a chance to catch their collective breaths after a catharsis of emotions.

Indeed, the comic relief employed by Shakespeare mirrors or parallels on a broader, more serious, or more farcical level, the tragic action of the main plot.

The nurse scenes in “Romeo and Juliet” with their broad, bawdy humor come to mind along with some of Romeo’s friend, Mercutio’s flights of punning- fancy. I always see the opening scenes of “Romeo and Juliet” as scene and mood setting, paralleling the action to come, funny, but not quite in the comic relief territory.,

Servants from both opposing families, Montague and Capulet, are out and about the streets picking fights with each other.

“Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?”

“I do bite my thumb, sir.”

(“Is the law on our side if I say aye?”)

“No sir, I do not bite my thumb at you, sir, but I do bite my thumb.”

The jesters toss taunts at each other, provoking each other, with a version of the more modern, middle finger flicking or flipping the bird at one another. Somehow we wonder about all of the other fingers and hand gestures prevalent in the world today. But some of us laugh at first at their road-rage antics.

In truth, the men set the stage for the tragic deaths of Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio and Tybalt among others, and escalate this tragedy of untimely death and heart-breaking pathos.

Providing comic relief, the drunken porter in”Macbeth,” opens the basement door to admit Mc Duff and his entourage. He literally welcomes them to hell, a gruesome irony, with King Duncan’s bloody body sprawled hideously in buckets of blood up above in his room, slaughtered by the ambitious and duplicitous friend, and cousin, and murderer …the easily manipulated by Lady Macbeth and the witches… Macbeth.

But we laugh in comic relief as the drunken, bawdy-porter welcomes, not so familiar characters to the modern audience, but characters that have their counterparts today in slick, oily politicians, or other greedy, vaulting-ambitious scoundrels. “Yes, pray remember the porter.” And welcome to hell.

So, too, today, we laugh with, and at, our modern jesters, Kevin Ryan and Javier Esposito, two of New York City’s finest, and Kate’s men, as they search Mc Usic’s apartment looking for evidence and finding poison, so Shakespearean. But the amusing and serious parallel continues or rather begins. Esposito remarks to his cohort:

“You know, the murder of Joe the juror is a real tragedy.”

“Isn’t every murder a tragedy?” Ryan returns.

“Yes, every murder’s a tragedy, but Joe is special.” Esposito lectures, explaining that Joe was a juvenile delinquent who redeemed himself, and believing in the system and giving selflessly to others, became a “born again citizen. And for his efforts he got a pill full of poison.”

It is at this moment that our would be hero, the Rick Castle emulating, Kevin Ryan utters one of the most profound Shakespearean observations, so befitting for “Castle” season three, as it spirals to its conclusion and the quote, straight from the ultimate “Tragedy of Julius Caesar”:

“Cowards die a thousand times before their death. The valiant never taste of death but once.”

Caesar, on his way to the Senate, despite a warning to remain home, spoke these brave words to his concerned wife. Ryan’s words quoting Caesar stop the breath. They are part of the puzzle; part of the answer; part of the unfolding tragedy to come, on so many levels, propelling us to “Castle” season three’s denouement.

And laughed at and challenged by his comrade in arms, Esposito, Ryan retaliates: “What, I’m not allowed to reference the Bard…. I’m a Renaissance man.” Of course, Esposito asks Ryan if he knows more than one quote.

Back at the station Captain Montgomery explains to a waiting Kate and Rick the outcome of his closed door and surreptitiously-taped conference with his erstwhile friend Louis Karnacki.

The ensuing conversation, between Captain Montgomery and Rick, is so powerful and foreshadowing that it, too, literally boggles the mind:

“Lou screwed up,” Captain Montgomery reveals to Kate and to Rick. “But that doesn’t take away from the good he has done.”

“It’s unfortunate, that despite all that good, he is only going to be remembered for this one bad thing.” Rick responds.

With Rick’s profound words uttered, Montgomery sighs heavily, apparently in deep thought, and looks at Rick and Kate in sorrow as he exits the precinct floor. We might hold back our thoughts for a while on Caesar’s dying words to his friend: “Et tu Brute.”

The stage has been set for the Julius Caesar comparison, first by Ryan’s words regarding the valiant, how they only taste of death but once, and then by Rick’s words, conjuring up, even paraphrasing Marc Antony’s manipulative, famous eulogy for the dead Caesar, murdered brutally by his friends and by his best of friends, the naïve Brutus:

“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears! I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones. So let it be with Caesar.”

Rick is right; Antony is right; and Captain Montgomery is stricken: the good, his own good deeds, will be buried with his bones; the evil will live after, he thinks.

With hindsight we know the Captain’s mind and heart are burdened heavily with his own conspiracy- related crimes and cover-ups, ultimately involving Kate’s mother, crimes so far encompassing that they will bring down his office, his honor, Kate, his surrogate daughter whom he has mentored and loved… and himself.

The plot, or nature of the conspiracy against Johanna Beckett, Kate’s mother, begins to unravel in “Knockdown” episode 13, season three, with retired Detective John Raglan, the detective in charge of Johanna’s case, calling Kate out to meet him in a diner to learn more about her mother’s murder and with Kate enlisting Rick to accompany her, describing Rick as a “friend she can trust.”

Raglan begins with a Dickensian quote, lines from “A Christmas Carol,” a cautionary, tragic tale of greed and ill will, so fitting, of Scrooge who learns almost too late, about the destructive, obliterating path of loathing, self-absorbing enmity and greed.

Raglan reflects, followed by Rick’s completing the quote:

“I wear the chain I forged in life.”

“I made it link by link,” Rick replies.

With the beginning of his confession to Kate, the tragedy of John Raglan unfolds. “Nineteen years ago I made a bad mistake. And it started the dominoes falling. And one of them was your mother.”

Essentially, probably once a good cop, misguided and filled with self- righteousness and a naïve outlook, he and two other cops kidnap grievous offenders who never see a day of jail time, and the three avenging cops, ransom the offenders, if the bad guys wish to remain on the streets.

The deal goes south when they try to kidnap a mafia boss and then leave an undercover FBI agent, Bob Armand murdered in the process. Undoubtedly “for the greater good,” the cops railroad Joe Pulgatti, for the agent’s murder. Now, Pulgatti, expendable, is not a good man, but he did not do the crime. One of the cops did.

Eventually, about six to seven years later, a civil rights attorney, Johanna Beckett is the only one to take on Pulgatti’s appeal, and thus Johanna puts a target on her back. Files are missing; she is murdered and left in a back alley, with John Raglan picking up the case, and burying it under some bogus, random- crime sanctuary.

Sadly, while finally trying to do the right thing, Raglan pays with his life, murdered by a sniper, while sitting and talking with Rick and Kate in the diner booth.

Someone else, however, has manipulated the three cops: John Raglan, Gary McAlister and the young, idealistic, rookie Roy Montgomery, and this person got rich from blackmail.

This person has attained high office now and wants Kate dead for the very same reasons he had her mother murdered: Kate and Johanna Beckett are both willing to stand up for the victims. Both Johanna and her daughter Kate stand up for the truth.

To save his soul, to assuage his guilt and to honor Johanna, Captain Roy Montgomery mentors a young Kate, loving her like a daughter, protecting her and overseeing her happiness, especially by bringing Rick Castle into the fold, after he sees how good he is for the troubled and sometimes emotionally fragile Kate.

But the situation spirals out of his control, the conspiracy is too powerful, high level and connected, and Kate’s investigations initiate a contract on her life. Our hearts break for Kate when she asks her captain if he killed her mother. He answers honestly, no, but acknowledges his culpability in Johanna’s death.

Captain Montgomery‘s tragic flaw is his earlier misplaced trust in the older officers, his childish idealism and poor judgment as a young rookie, but now he remains “a born again citizen.” Now he will ultimately redeem himself and find salvation for his crimes.

He will sacrifice himself; he will save Johanna’s daughter.

In” Knockout,” the season three finale, aided by Rick who holds back a grieving Kate, desperately wanting to stand with her captain to the end, Captain Montgomery faces certain death, outnumbered in that airplane hangar, bathed in blue, surreal and so real.

Roy Montgomery, courageously sacrifices his life, gives up love, family and a beloved wife, for Kate and for personal salvation, for redemption, like Archbishop Thomas a Becket facing death, unafraid, standing tall; like Joe, like Kate, like all who do what is morally right.

And Kate and Rick, Ryan and Esposito, those who know the truth, try ever so hard to preserve Montgomery’s legacy of good deeds, so that they are not interred with his bones, with only the evil living after him.

We grieve for this good man, for how much more he could have done, for the shame and grief he lived with daily, and for his good deeds, for Roy Montgomery’s tragedy and for his tragic death.

We care!

Indeed, “Cowards die a thousand times before their death. The valiant never taste of death but once.”

In the final tragic scene, a sniper, with a contract on her life, shoots Kate through the heart, the conspiracy still alive with countless dead, greed and ambition still destroying lives.

A grieving Rick holds Kate near and dear, protecting her, praying for her life, while professing his love for her, for Kate, one of the valiant.


  1. Elisabeth Clauzon says

    Incredible and most interesting analysis of Castle series in parallel with Shakespeare’s works.
    You mentioned Becket the Bishop. Personally I always thought it was an allusion to another Becket, the playwright of the ” Theatre of the Absurd”. Anyway, a brilliant essay.

  2. KB12th says

    I actually tweeted another of the Bards well known quotes the other week in regards to Castle & Beckett,Rosalind’s speech from ‘As You Like It’. It seemed fitting after ‘Always’.

    Shakespeare will forever be one of the best writers in history,he weaved many genres together in interesting ways and wrote beautifuly tragic characters.

    I never get tired of reading your essays on Castle 😉

  3. katillion says

    I remember studying Shakespeare in school. I liked the stories but could never figure out the poetry. I wish we had had you as the teacher!

  4. Shena says

    Peggy, as always, a wonderful analysis.

    I have constantly thought of Rick and Kate as the modern Benedict and Beatrice — two people so in love with each other, but so determined to hide their feelings behind their wit (until Benedict makes the first move). That’s our Rick… trying to help his Beatrice (Kate) see what’s right in front of her.

    In “Always”, Kate said: ” “I’m so sorry… I almost died, and all I could think about was you.” To me, this had such strong parallels to the scene in “Much Ado About Nothing” when Beatrice finally allowed her wall to come down as she exclaims to Benedict: “I love you with so much of my heart, that none is left to protest.”

    Ironically, this is just before Benedict says he will do anything for her, and Beatrice asks him to “Kill Claudio” (one of his best friends). Is this foreshadowing what will occur in Season 5? Only AWM knows the answer to that.

    I also love the parallel of Kate and Rick with Kate and Petruchio (another parallel that I had drawn in my mind), but I have to admit that I never thought of Castle as a parallel to Lear. In my mind’s eye, I always saw him more like Prospero from “The Tempest” — the magician, the story teller, the father, the king.

    Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan, lives on an island with his only daughter, Miranda. Through the use of magic, wit, and no shortage of charm, Prospero brings every happiness to Miranda. Although he wants her to grow up, he is ever protective of her and wishes to ensure that she has a suitor that is worthy of her (and of him).

    Every time Alexis shows a hint that she is growing up, Rick grows ever more protective. Recall his first judgmental meeting with Ashley? What about his shock when Alexis reveals that she wants to go graduate early and to Stanford? There was also the debate about Alexis working in the morgue… and so many other moments in between. But as much as Castle is frustrated by his daughter’s choices (as Prospero was frustrated by Miranda at times), he is also extremely protective of her.

    Caliban, the man-fish creature who resides on the island, is a sexual threat to Miranda, and Prospero threatens him, beats him, and enslaves him to keep Caliban away from his precious daughter. This too, is seen in Rick… especially when Detective Slaughter makes unappreciated remarks about Alexis. The ever protective father in Rick does not even hesitate in his retaliation with a right hook to Slaughter’s face. Another moment that reveals his protective nature was in “3XK” when Alexis debated meeting her secret admirer in Central Park. The paranoid father in Rick can’t stop himself from wondering if this secret admirer might be a sexual predator — such as Caliban was to Miranda.

    Finally, as Prospero was a magician, so is Rick. Rick weaves his enchantments not with spells, but with words. When he speaks from the heart, his words resonate with those to whom he speaks, whether it is to Martha (“You are still beautiful, and you are still talented. And you didn’t give up your youth. You traded it for wisdom”), or to Alexis (“Life is a journey and there is no predicting the outcome. The only things you can control are your choices and they’ll define who you are. I would just hate to see you so focused on the problem right in front of you that you completely miss the entire picture”) or to Beckett (“You are who you always were. You are the one who honors the victims”).

    With the right words (like Prospero using the right magic), Rick can cast a spell on anyone. He has certainly cast a spell on us, the audience… And in that sense, this is very Shakespearean indeed.

  5. Toronto says

    Good thoughts, good comparisons.
    As I pointed out in one of my “Philosophy Rises” pieces, there has been a lot of discussion about the role of scepticism in Shakespearean comedy and tragedy, and in particular what Stanley Cavell calls the “remarriage comedies”, of which ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is the exemplar — these are comedies about people who are adult, have had relationships or marriages, but never really understood what they were about. They need “remarriage” in order to understand the “marriage” that didn’t work the first time around. Castle is one of those (twice married); and Beckett is at least experienced. True marriage is a relationship between equals, and the whole purpose of the bantering and testing between the male and the female is to see if they are not only equal, but prepared to put up with an equal. And to acknowledge the real “otherness” of the other person in the relationship — that someone else actually exists (this is where the sceptical challenge comes in) not someone who is a kind of illusion, made up of false perceptions or desires.
    Part of what makes ‘Castle’ interesting is the way in which the detection of the mystery in crimes is paralleled by the detection of the mystery in someone else. It is hard to know of a Shakespearean equivalent in a comedy: in the tragedies the failure or refusal to detect the mystery in someone else results in their death (e.g. Desdemona).

  6. southerngirl says

    Thank you Trueheart! I love your commentary – always!! I’m retired also – health care – and in my next life plan to major in English! Also, like you pretty addicted to Castle because I think it’s the most well-written show TV has to offer. Everything works – writing, directing, entire cast, and wonderful crew!!

  7. TracyLee55 says

    As always Peggy, a wonderful piece of literature you have produced. I truly think You should bind all of your reviews and put them in book form.

    The Shakespearian comparissons are brilliant. And as Shena points out (as did you) the paralles with Benedict (Rick) and Beatrice (Kate) in “Much Ado About Nothing”. Shena the “The Tempest” comparison of Rick & Alexis to Prospero & Miranda makes me want to go back and read the play (in fact all the plays mentioned ) again. Only this time I shall put the Castle faces on the appropriate characters.

    Thank you Peggy! This was a great read, I cannot wait for your next article especially after S5 begins.

  8. Castle-lover says

    i cannot begin to describe the feelings that were present while reading this article and replies… i have recently been looking up articles online to see in any others have made these incredable connections that you have, and in doing so i have been experiencing doubts towards castle from the negative words said…. doubts which are now gone because of the words written in this article…. so thank you for that.

    ‘(“Life is a journey and there is no predicting the outcome. The only things you can control are your choices and they’ll define who you are. I would just hate to see you so focused on the problem right in front of you that you completely miss the entire picture”)
    Oh, how true that is…. so many people critisize the small things they dont like about Castle that they become too blind to see this show is a puzzle and they need to focus on the entire picture the puzzle gives if they truely want to enjoy.

    In my eyes, Castle is more than just a show of entertainment. It is a way of looking at life.
    The things said by our beloved Richard Castle when giveing advice to Alexis or comforting her are lessons that everyone should take to heart. Even Martha, when talking to Castle in the changing room area when Alexis was picking out her prom dress, gave profound information to her son about what truely makes women beautiful.

    There are so many times when watching an episode I reach over and grab a pen and paper to write what was said because I want to remember it.
    This show is one of a kind and we are extremely lucky to have it.

    Thank you Trueheart. For it is your insight on each episode I anxiously wait for so I can also see connetions that others don’t. Your posts are much appreciated.

  9. says

    Hi Peggy,

    Another stellar piece of writing and very moving. As you may recall I was at one time “the young guy sitting in the back of the college classroom” you referred to, listening and attempting to absorb the meanings and symbolism of the great writers, and with the help of teachers/professors such as you, some things actually soaked thru.

    Over the course of my career which I have told you about, I had one phrase framed on my wall and a phrase that I referred to on an almost daily basis on the job.

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” (Edmin Burke)

    My best wishes to you Peggy,

    Steve Q.

  10. Elisabeth Clauzon says

    It could be interesting for European fans of this TV Show to know Peggy Trueheart (a well-chosen nickname, I presume) better. Where she taught, what she taught, her favourite writers, apart from Shakespeare of course, etc.
    A nice lady she must be, considering her former students’mails.
    All my best.

  11. says

    Hello Elisabeth,

    Just some clarification. After commenting on one of Trueheart’s previous articles, I had offered my praise on how well written it was and received by the numerous favorable postings. Peggy (Trueheart) used my comments and compared them to students ( with me as an example) she had taught in the past. I only wish that I had been fortunate enough to have had Peggy as a teacher/professor during my college years as I think she is probably a most wonderful and beautiful person. I assume your post is from” across the pond” ( I have been mistaken about a number of my assumptions so forgive me if this is another instance) and if so WELCOME and it is nice to “meet you”.
    Best Regards,
    Steve Q.