Horror 101: The Beginnings

The history of horror is a tough subject to tackle because there are so many types of horror. Which things do you include? And perhaps the hardest question of all...where did it start?

For the early part of its history, Horror was associated with religion, and many people believe The Bible to be the first piece of horror based literature. While I can't speak to that specific point (though I will talk more about how faith and the horror genre mix in another series) it is true that a lot of the first pieces of horror literature were rooted in religion. This was largely because of a growing obsession with the supernatural. In 1235 the Vatican created an order to "reestablish the faith" meaning charges of heresy were also tangled with allegations of witchcraft - something that would last centuries. this helped to birth the work "Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer of Witches)" by Henry Kramer and Jakob Sprenger in 1486. This work endorses the extermination of witches and was a best seller, second only to The Bible for about 200 years.

I'm going to take a step back in time for a second to go to 1308. This is when Dante published the first "chapter" of his "Divine Comedy", "Inferno". And I bring this up because the vision of Satan that Dante portrayed would be the influence and the vision of Satan for years afterward. And although the "Fear of God" is slightly different from the fear we expect in horror fiction - I still wanted to include it, nonetheless.

In the 1500s, we started to see a new kind of horror that took place not in books, but on the stage. Often referred to as "Tragedies" rather than "Horror", these plays included murderous plots, and supernatural characters such as ghosts and witches. One of the first instances of this was a play titled "The Spanish Tragedy" by Thomas Kyd written sometime in the mid 1580s. This play would go on to influence other great tragedies such as Shakespeare's "Hamlet" and John Webster's "The Duchess of Malfi".

Okay. I think that's a good place to end for now. Next time, we'll tackle the birth of the Gothic novel.

Until next time,



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