It’s difficult to know what to say in the wake of tragedy. This kind of thing effects different people in different ways and, not being someone gifted/cursed with a great deal of empathy, it’s double difficult for me to come to any conclusion about something appropriate to relate.
The last lines of Shakespeare’s tragedies are generally attempts by his very human characters to break the impossible tension of the play’s events. Often these words are uttered over a stage strewn with corpses; the trail of ruin that true tragedy leaves in its wake.
Instead of trying to come up with something to say myself, I thought I’d take a moment to survey these lines for you in hopes that they will provide something more profound than any axiom I could utter.
Stay safe, everyone.
“My rage is gone;
And I am struck with sorrow. Take him up.
Help, three o’ the chiefest soldiers; I’ll be one.
Beat thou the drum, that it speak mournfully:
Trail your steel pikes. Though in this city he
Hath widow’d and unchilded many a one,
Which to this hour bewail the injury,
Yet he shall have a noble memory. Assist.” –Aufidius, Coriolanus, 5.6
Aufidius, seeing Coriolanus dead, feels sorrow for his nemesis. His tenderness towards Coriolanus and willingness to honor his mortal enemy in death shows a true humanity to Aufidius; the man, not the soldier, closes this show.
“Let four captains
Bear Hamlet, like a soldier, to the stage;
For he was likely, had he been put on,
To have proved most royally: and, for his passage,
The soldiers’ music and the rites of war
Speak loudly for him.
Take up the bodies: such a sight as this
Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.
Go, bid the soldiers shoot.” –Fortinbras, Hamlet, 5.2
This one has given me particular cause for ire over the years due to directors purposefully misinterpreting it to mean “take Horatio out back and shoot him”. I’ve already expounded upon why this is a bad idea so I don’t feel the need to hammer it home here.
“The weight of this sad time we must obey;
Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.
The oldest hath borne most: we that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.” – Albany, King Lear, 5.3
Perhaps the most profound of the end-tags; I’ve always had a special fondness for this one since it can apply to not just a tragedy, but also to many other aspects of life when politics is involved. For example: it was an utterance first delivered me by a professor when we were in conference before a talkback with an important director whose work we had just seen.
“Gratiano, keep the house,
And seize upon the fortunes of the Moor,
For they succeed on you. To you, lord governor,
Remains the censure of this hellish villain;
The time, the place, the torture: O, enforce it!
Myself will straight aboard: and to the state
This heavy act with heavy heart relate.” – Lodovico, Othello, 5.2
Lodovico’s instinct to take charge of the situation and his burden to inform the people of what has transpired is a burden that many leaders will feel during such times of crisis. Having to stay strong for other people makes us strong within ourselves. Lodovico, rather than break down completely, takes it upon himself to be a pillar for the people.
“A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head:
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things;
Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished:
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” – Prince, Romeo and Juliet, 5.3
Perhaps one of the most famous last lines, owing perhaps to the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s Romeo and Juliet portion of Complete Works of Wllm Shkspr [abrgd]…. Or maybe that’s just how I remember it.
My most profound sympathies go out to the people effected by yesterday’s events. Stay strong, Boston.