Apologies in advance for a not so happy sort of post, but the subject was on my mind.
I was listening to an audiobook version of Antony and Cleopatra today while driving to an from my various engagements (audio Shakespeare is great while driving, try it sometime!). Antony hears that Cleopatra is dead, so he decides to kill himself. His servant, Eros, kill himself when asked to kill his master. “Why, there then: thus I do escape the sorrow Of Antony’s death.” And of course Cleopatra meets a self inflicted end. In the previous Roman Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Cassius and Brutus kill themselves when they find that their battles aren’t going well. Portia kills herself. Plenty of other plays include suicide, one of the most famous examples: Romeo and Juliet.
Lots of people dying in these plays, many of them suicides. How does a suicide affect an audience or reader in context of one of these plays? Romans held the belief that suicide rather than capture was a noble death but I have a feeling that Shakespeare doesn’t share this view.
The real tragedy in many of these stories, I believe, have to do with the unnecessary deaths that occur. Cassius’ death was because he misinterpreted what his messenger saw. Brutus on the other hand preferred not to be captured and preserve his honor. Were either of these honorable?
In R&J and A&C the first lover thinks the other is dead and kills himself, the ladies soon follow suit. Was that a smart thing to do? I don’t think the author is painting a beautiful, romantic end to either pair of star-crossed lovers.
In the Christian world, suicide is a sin and was likely a view shared by Mr. Shakespeare. But I know there are some out there who think suicide serves a different purpose. Maybe Romeo and Juliet were fated to die because a love so perfect cannot exist. Or maybe because the prologue says they die. Depends on the production and the director’s take on the script. What’s your take?
It’s a touchy subject for a lot of people these days with lots of coverage in the media about youngsters taking their own lives, and people taking their lives along with other people for various reasons. Parallels can be drawn between the tragedy of someone so young dying before their time and possibly in vain, as well as those who die “for honor” (in their opinion anyway). Billy Shakes shows us once again that his works can be relevant today.
So what is it with tragedies and suicide? What does killing one’s self accomplish? And are there other parallels to today that can be made? Horatio tries to end his life as Hamlet is dying, but is stopped by Hamlet so that he can “Tell my story.” What story are you hearing when Shakespeare’s characters die by their own hand?