Shakespeare’s tragedies are rife with deaths of ill-fated characters. Quite frankly, basically everybody dies. Though most of these individuals die by the sword, others are poisoned, die of grief, and one is even pursued by a bear. As we remember the Bard during this Shakespeare400 anniversary year, we’ve ranked the five most epic Shakespearean deaths with help from The Shakespeare Book.
Torn between her love for Hamlet and loyalty to her father, Ophelia is trapped. Her tragedy spirals out of control when Hamlet accidentally stabs Polonius, killing him, and rejects Ophelia in a such a humiliating and devastating way that, when she learns of her father’s murder at the hands of her former lover, she loses her sanity. Ophelia has no alternative but to throw herself into the river to drown.
King Lear is “a man / More sinned against than sinning.” No one can console Lear in his grief after the death of his daughter Cordelia, and he slips into madness and dies. No other play by Shakespeare offers such a bleak perspective on human mortality, and it is in this respect that King Lear remains Shakespeare’s most devastating play.
“Beware the Ides of March!”
After Julius Caesar accepts the crown to become King and sole leader of Rome, Brutus is convinced by Cassius that Caesar needs to be murdered in order to liberate the country from his dictatorship. Brutus and Cassius pull together a group of conspirators. The next day, they attack and each stab Caesar, causing his death.
Antigonus is tasked with taking the infant Perdita, daughter of King Leontes, to “some remote and desert place” because the king believes his childhood friend is the baby’s father. Antigonus lays her on the shores of Bohemia, and the lost baby is discovered by an Old Shepherd—but not before Antigonus meets his end with one of the most famous stage directions of all time, “Exit, pursued by a bear.”
After Romeo and Juliet fall in love despite the feud between their families, Juliet drugs herself to escape her wedding to her betrothed, Paris, and is found apparently dead in her bed. When Romeo returns to Verona from Mantua, he sneaks into Juliet’s tomb, lies next to her body, takes poison, and dies. Juliet wakes to find Romeo dead and stabs herself in despair. Romeo and Juliet will certainly continue to go down in history as one of the most epic love stories of all time.
Learn more about these and other epic Shakespearean deaths in The Shakespeare Book. This bold book covers every work, from the comedies of Twelfth Night and As You Like It to the tragedies of Julius Caesar and Hamlet, plus lost plays and less well-known works of poetry. Easy-to-understand graphics and illustrations bring the themes, plots, characters and language of Shakespeare to life, including illustrated timelines which offer an at-a-glance summary of the action for each play.