Shakespeare Saturday: On Death

I’ve been thinking about death lately. How not, when the world lost some brilliant people in the last few days? I’ve been pondering how it affects us, especially how the death of someone we’ve never met can steal the air from our lungs and leave the ground beneath us no more solid than quicksand. Is it the shock of their mortality? The idea that we never even knew they were sick? Or is it something more; something more like losing a part of ourselves that we never realized was there? The death of the characters–and they are characters, because we construct them from the snippets of what we know–we love steals from us the part of ourselves that loved them. They changed us, taught us things, made us realize who we are, and now they’re gone.

The world is a little less magical, a little less secure, because the firmament of ourselves has been built–perhaps not entirely, but certainly in bits and pieces–upon what we love about these now-lost heroes. And now we must face a world without them, which is, perhaps, something we never thought we’d have to do.

I confess it is is the loss of Alan Rickman which hurts me the most. I was never the hugest fan of David Bowie’s music, so I never connected with him the way a lot of people did; my mourning for his loss was more because I knew just how important he was to music. But Rickman…

My friend shared this with me the other day, and hearing it made me realize what I needed to write about today:

 

I needed to talk about death and Shakespeare. Both because I needed to mourn through words–they’re so much neater, so much more relatable than anything else–and because I couldn’t help but think about Shakespeare’s ability to cut right to the heart of death. He gave us Hamlet, one of the greatest works on grief and loss I think the English language has ever experienced. (How I hated it so much as a kid, I will never understand. Stupid me. Stupid, stupid me.) He had a way of expressing so…perfectly what loss can do to a person. Such a deep, unfathomable emotion–the kind which shuns erudition and sets a weight upon our tongues–and he wrenched it from himself and put it down on paper for posterity. Shakespeare gave us death in all its forms, and we have but to choose which version it is that reflects best how we feel.

The worst part about it is that we know next-to-nothing about his own death. We know he died on April 23, 1616 in Stratford-upon-Avon and was buried there. We know it was about a month after writing his will in “perfect health”, but that is about it. Based on one tribute from his fellow writer, we believe he died rather suddenly, perhaps of a fever contracted after a night of hard drinking. But, really, we know very little about the man who put grief on paper so the whole world could find the right words to describe it. I like to think that there was mourning; if Victorians could bear black arm bands for Sherlock Holmes (not to mention engage in a serious campaign to bring him back), I like to think the theaters went dark and the nation mourned. Death was no more ever-present then than in Victorian times (minus the plague, really, all the others tended to stay), and Shakespeare achieved popular acclaim on levels approaching superstar-dom. But we will never know, and I think that’s a shame. Because when the world loses someone like a Shakespeare or a Bowie or a Rickman, I think we should all take the time to mourn.

‘Tis a vile thing to die, my gracious lord,
When men are unprepared and look not for it.                                                                                                                                                        -Richard III Act 3, Scene 2

We’ll be back tomorrow with something silly. Thank the deity of your choosing (or not).

C

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One thought on “Shakespeare Saturday: On Death

  1. I heartily agree with your feelings about Shakespeare and the manner in which he was able to touch our emotions with words. Even though we could never hear how his sonnets or his plays sounded when they were fresh, and language itself has changed so much, his words still ring true and strong. It is truly amazing. And, as for Alan Rickman, I agree with you on that as well. I remember the first movie I saw him in was ‘Quigley Down Under’. He played that role so well that I began watching for his work and trying to make sure I saw everything he did. He truly was a gifted actor with an ultimate understanding of both Comedy and Tragedy.
    He will be missed.

    Liked by 1 person

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