Top 10 Epic Deaths in Shakespeare – Number 1
7 Dec 2018
SHAKESPEARE HAD A PENCHANT FOR KILLING OFF HIS CHARACTERS. WE ASKED AN EXPERT PANEL TO NAME THE TEN MOST EPIC DEATHS FROM HIS PLAYS. TODAY WE REVEAL FOUR OF THE DEATHS THAT MADE THE, AHEM, CUT…
Compiled by Andy McLean
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If there was one thing Shakespeare loved as much as staging an epic death then it was staging a “play within a play”. If he could combine the two? Even better. A Midsummer Night’s Dream closes with the lead characters at a wedding, watching a bunch of tradies performing Pyramus and Thisbe – and it’s the death of Pyramus that steals this particular show within a show.
Playing Pyramus falling upon his sword, Bottom milks the death for all it’s worth: ‘Thus die I, thus, thus, thus… Now die, die, die, die, die.’ The scene invariably has the entire audience collapsing into fits of laughter but there is more to this epic death than meets the eye. Shakespeare is simultaneously poking fun at the wedding guests watching Bottom’s romantic buffoonery, while poking fun at his own work-in-progress play Romeo And Juliet, and even poking fun at every hammy actor in history.
One of the most famous lines in theatre is uttered by Julius Caesar as his best friend’s knife sinks into his body: ‘Et tu, Brute?’ Bell Shakespeare Associate Director James Evans makes a strong case for this being the most epic death in the Shakespeare.
Evans, who directed the play as the 2018 national tour explains: “Even though he’s the title character, Julius Caesar doesn’t survive past the halfway point of the play. But the fallout from the murder is epic – it is the beginning of the end of the Roman republic. In the fateful scene, Caesar is at his most arrogant, comparing himself to the ‘constant’ North Star, when Casca strikes the first blow. According to historical accounts, he received 23 stab wounds, with his dear friend Brutus finally finishing him off.”
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.
The death scene that robs us of both Romeo and Juliet continues to haunt audiences more than four centuries after Shakespeare wrote it. The two young lovers are mere moments away from being reunited and – who knows? – perhaps a Happily Ever After. Instead, cruel luck leads them to their doom.
Actor and writer Kylie Bracknell chose this as her most epic death in Shakespeare: “The effort Juliet goes to in order to be with her Romeo is absolutely breathtaking – pun intended – and utterly heartbreaking when it all goes awry. But I’d rather see an honourable death for love than any other. It’s super romantic (and yes, a touch gloomy!). This double suicide death leaves these devoted hearts resting together forever. It takes a lot of guts to follow through.”
Shakespeare could always be relied upon to dish up a good murder, says writer Benjamin Law, “but you really can’t beat Titus Andronicus for headcount or creativity”.
Law makes a good point. The plot includes stabbings, a sacrifice, beheadings, severed hands, a hanging… oh, and let’s not forget someone being buried alive too.
But there are two deaths in the play that really stand out, according to Law: “Titus kills the Empress’s sons Chiron and Demetrius, bakes them in a pie and serves it to their mother. It’s brutal, deranged and bloody good theatre. There’s a reason why Game of Thrones later essentially recreated it.”
Bell Shakespeare will be staging Titus Andronicus in Sydney in 2019.
Image: Kenneth Ransom in Julius Caesar (2018) © Prudence Upton.