Top 10 Epic Deaths in Shakespeare – Numbers 10, 9, 8, 7, 6
3 Dec 2018
DEATH IS A FREQUENT AND IMAGINATIVE VISITOR IN SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS, WITH CHARACTERS DROPPING LIKE FLIES. WE ASKED AN EXPERT PANEL TO NAME THEIR FAVOURITE FATALITIES IN SHAKESPEARE, AND TODAY WE REVEAL THE MOST EPIC DEATH OF ALL.
JOIN THE DEBATE
When our panel were asked to name the most epic death in Shakespeare, social researcher Rebecca Huntley was first to name Cleopatra: “Defiant to the end and involving excellent props.”
Huntley was quickly followed by Dr Huw Griffiths from the University of Sydney who expanded on that point: “Cleopatra stage-manages her own death brilliantly, with props (poisonous asp, crown, robe) and multiple audiences: on stage, offstage, and history itself: ‘Give me my robe, put on my crown. I have / Immortal longings in me’.”
And Robert O’Brien, Professor Emeritus of English Literature at California State University, Chico pointed to the wider significance of Cleopatra and Antony’s deaths: “They affect not just a kingdom, but also much of the world. Antony’s death is a botch, with Cleopatra interrupting him, but she gets an end that’s both comic (the clown who brings the asps refuses to get off the stage and makes lots of dirty puns) and transcendent: ‘I am fire and air. My other elements / I give to baser life’.”
Griffiths agrees: “Cleopatra certainly upstages her lover, Antony, with his bungled suicide. But her last words are, nevertheless, unfinished. She tries to turn herself into a monumental spectacle in death, staged for the world to see. But her last words trail off: ‘What should I stay —-‘. She dies leaving us wanting more. What a diva!”
For all these reasons and more, Cleopatra’s dazzling death stole number one spot in our countdown of Shakespeare’s Most Epic Deaths.
COMING TO A STAGE NEAR YOU
Bell Shakespeare will stage some of theatre’s most epic deaths in future productions. Next year, the body count will stack up in all sorts of imaginative ways when Adena Jacobs directs Titus Andronicus in Sydney. Sign up to the Bell Shakespeare newsletter for updates.