We are fascinated with the last words of famous people and, indeed, some real-life last words are more than interesting in the way they connect with the speakers’ lives. In the world of Shakespeare’s fictional characters, there are several deaths. Some die offstage and we only hear about their last moments. Lady Macbeth’s, death, for example, is a simple report that it has occurred and we don’t even get on account of what has caused it, and we are left to speculate that she has committed suicide. But most of the deaths are onstage.
In the case of real people there are some fascinating last words. The composer and musical showman, Beethoven, sighed out his final breath with: ‘Friends, applaud, the comedy is finished.’ When Marie Antoinette ascended the guillotine scaffold she accidentally trod on the executioner’s hand. Well-bred and polite to the end, she said, ‘Pardon me Sir: I meant not to do it.’ Seconds later he decapitated her. Nastradamus ended his life with a final prediction: ‘Tomorrow I shall no longer be here.’ Winston Churchill let the world into how he felt about the exciting and eventful life he had lived with ‘I’m bored with it all.’
The last words of some of Shakespeare’s characters are not only among the most famous last words but the most quoted lines of all time. ‘Et tu Brute’ is the definitive accusation of someone who has deceived you or let you down. Hamlet’s dying ‘The rest is silence,’ is the perfect end of anything. Macbeth’s invitation to Macduff to begin their fight: ‘Lay on Macduff,’ usually misquoted as ‘Lead on Macduff,’ is a universal invitation to someone to begin something. Extracting oneself from a dispute between two parties and refusing to take sides cannot be better expressed than Mercutio’s ‘A plague on both your houses’ in Romeo and Juliet.
Here is a list of the last words of Shakespearean characters.
If one good deed in all my life I did,
I do repent it from my very soul.
Aaron, Titus Andronicus
This is the chase:
I am gone for ever.
Antigonus, The Winter’s Tale
O, treachery! Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly!
Thou mayst revenge. O slave!
Caesar, now be still:
I kill’d not thee with half so good a will.
Brutus, Julius Caesar
He has killed me, mother.
Run away, I pray you!
Boy, son of Macduff, Macbeth
Caesar, thou art avenged
Even with the sword that killed thee.
Cassius, Julius Caesar
O, yet defend me, friends; I am but hurt.
What should I stay
Cleopatra, Antony and Cleopatra
Commend me to my kind lord: O, farewell!
O! Lay me by my mistress’side
Oh Antony! Oh Antony!
Enobarbus, Antony and Cleopatra
The rest is silence.
The earthy and cold hand of death
Lies on my tongue. No Percy, though art dust
And food for –
Harry Hotspur, Henry IV part 1
I am unarmed; forego this vantage, Greek.
Hector, Troilus and Cressida
O, God forgive my sins, and pardon thee
Henry VI, Henry VI Part 3
Yea, noise? then I’ll be brief. O happy dagger!
This is thy sheath;
there rust, and let me die.
Juliet, Romeo and Juliet
Et tu, Brute! Then fall, Caesar.
Julius Caesar, Julius Caesar
In that Jerusalem shall Harry die.
King Henry IV, Henry IV, Part 2
Mount, mount, my soul! thy seat is up on high;
Whilst my gross flesh sinks downward, here to die.
King Richard II, Richard II
My heart hath one poor string to stay it by,
Which holds but till thy news be uttered;
And then all this thou seest is but a clod
And module of confounded royalty.
King John, King John
And my poor fool is hang’d! No, no, no life!
Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never!
Pray you, undo this button: thank you, sir.
Do you see this? Look on her, look, her lips,
Look there, look there!
King Lear, King Lear
A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!
King Richard III, Richard III
Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet:
Mine and my father’s death come not upon thee,
Nor thine on me.
Lay on, Macduff,
And damn’d be him that first cries, ‘Hold, enough!’
Now my spirit is going;
I can no more.
Mark Antony, Antony and Cleopatra
A plague o’ both your houses!
They have made worms’ meat of me: I have it,
And soundly too: your houses!
Mercutio, Romeo and Juliet
I kissed thee ere I killed thee; no way but this,
Killing myself to die upon a kiss.
O, I am slain!
If thou be merciful,
Open the tomb, lay me with Juliet.
Paris, Romeo and Juliet
Behind O, I am slain!
No, no, the drink, the drink,
O my dear Hamlet,
The drink, the drink! I am poison’d.
Queen Gertrude, Hamlet
O true apothecary!
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.
Romeo, Romeo and Juliet
Poor boy! he smiles, methinks, as who should say,
Had death been French, then death had died to-day.
Come, come and lay him in his father’s arms:
My spirit can no longer bear these harms.
Soldiers, adieu! I have what I would have,
Now my old arms are young John Talbot’s grave.
Talbot, Henry VI Part 1
Sun, hide thy beams! Timon hath done his reign.
Timon of Athens, Timon of Athens
Why, there they are both, baked in that pie;
Whereof their mother daintily hath fed,
Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred.
‘Tis true, ‘tis true; witness my knife’s sharp point.
Titus Andronicus, Titus Andronicus
Thou wretched boy,
That didst consort him here,
Shalt with him hence
Tybalt, Romeo and Juliet