One of the really great things about Shakespeare fandom is that you have a limited number of things to work with. Unlike, say, being a fan of a particular comic book series — where new issues, storylines, and entire universes of continuity get swapped out all the time — Shakespeare fans only have to deal with the 38 plays that are commonly considered "Shakespeare plays." (Of course, between collaborations with other authors, legendary "lost" plays, and academics trying to make their names by discovering "new" Shakespeare works, the fight about "what counts as Shakespeare" is a nice little canon battle in its own right.)
It's not at all hard for a Shakespeare fan to be at least somewhat familiar with all 38 plays — even the ones that, objectively speaking, are really not that great (ahem, Cymbeline). And it's possible for an enterprising data journalist, like the ones at the Telegraph (UK), to compile every single death in a Shakespeare play into a single chart:
Unfortunately, the Telegraph chart doesn't include citations, and I can't swear to its accuracy — I don't know the plays well enough to be able to check all the deaths off the top of my head. (It definitely counts at least one death that is offstage and only implied, which seems to me like cheating, and I think it's missing one "stabbed and poisoned.") But it's definitely a fair representation, on the whole, of how Shakespeare killed off dozens of his best-known and most beloved characters.
Lots of stabbings, and two deaths by pie
You don't need to know the Shakespeare canon to be amused by some of these methods of death — and you should definitely mouse over the pie chart to reveal some of the labels. There's the redundant ("stabbed and poisoned," "dismemberment then fire"); the underexplained ("throws oneself away," "disappears," "lack of sleep"); and the simply WTF ("baked into pie," "pursued by bear"). It's jarring, in a fun way, to see all 74 deaths compiled together — which is the point. The Telegraph infographic comes from an article about a forthcoming play The Complete Deaths, which will just present all 74 deaths in a row.
If you want to move past "LOL" and figure out how these 74 deaths actually fit into Shakespeare's works, though, there are a few things to be aware of:
Not all plays are equally bloody. There's a joke about Shakespeare's endings: "If it's a tragedy, everyone dies at the end. If it's a comedy, everyone gets married at the end." That's not true of all the plays, but it's true of more of them than you might think.
Some of the most famous plays are among the bloodiest. Those three characters who are redundantly "stabbed and poisoned," for example? They're all in Hamlet, including Hamlet himself. (There's also a character in King Lear who stabs herself with a poisoned dagger, for what it's worth.) That might seem weird if you think of Shakespeare as something super highbrow and academic, but makes sense if you understand that his plays have always been popular entertainment first and foremost.
Not all stabbings are created equal. The Telegraph's chart appears to count stabbings as "any death accomplished via sharp object" — which means that people who kill themselves count alongside people killed by others, and people killed by swords in battle count alongside people murdered with knives in their sleep. It's definitely common for characters to stab each other to death in Shakespeare, but it's even more common for them to stab themselves. Like gun violence in America, knife violence in Shakespeare is primarily a suicide problem.
Yes, the ridiculous deaths are supposed to be ridiculous. As the director of The Complete Deaths told the Telegraph, Shakespeare's death scenes got a lot more sophisticated — a lot more, well, tragic — as his career progressed. But not every death in Shakespeare is a tragic one.
Take those two poor men "baked into a pie," for example. They're victims of Titus Andronicus (the play and the character), Shakespeare's first tragedy, which is really a melodrama more along the lines of Hannibal than Hamlet. The play includes a bloodbath that a lot of Shakespeare geeks can recite by heart and with glee: Titus Andronicus's daughter Lavinia is raped by the sons of the play's villainous Queen Tamora. The sons then cut off Lavinia's tongue and her hands. Lavinia manages to tell her father who raped her by grabbing a stick and writing their names in the dirt. Titus Andronicus gets his revenge on Tamora and her family by baking the sons into a pie and serving the pie to their mother. It's totally gross and totally absurd — but then again, the point of a story about escalating revenge is to see how far the characters are willing to go to get back at each other.
And then there are the deaths that are simply comic. The most famous stage direction in all of Shakespeare is "Exit, pursued by a bear." It happens to a minor character in the middle of the late comedy The Winter's Tale. I have no idea if it was originally played for laughs — the character who is implicitly mauled isn't someone the audience is terribly attached to, and is honestly kind of a windbag — but it certainly is today. And that's not a problem. As I've written, the very worst thing people can do to Shakespeare's plays is put them up on a pedestal. If you're not having fun with Shakespeare — even having fun with death — you are doing something very wrong.