chapter
18 Pages

Introduction

WithMarlena Tronicke

That suicide is a pre-eminent concern of Shakespeare’s tragedies hardly needs to be argued. Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” soliloquy, probably the most famous line in literature, is a speech weighing the pros and cons of committing suicide. And suicide also seals the fate of history’s most iconic pair of lovers, Romeo and Juliet. In each of the tragedies, most notably in the Roman plays, the stage is virtually littered with the bodies of suicides. Antony and Cleopatra , for example, features no less than five onstage self-killings, and in several plays, characters die offstage, but nevertheless, their deaths are reported as suicides. In total, Shakespeare’s dramatic oeuvre showcases fifteen suicides as well as several suicide attempts, a murder that is labelled suicide by the alleged victim, and a comic mock-suicide performance. Suicidal blood is only spilled in the tragedies, which, at first glance, seems understandable. Death has no place within the generic framework of comedy, and suicide even less so. In Antony and Cleopatra, however, Shakespeare toys with the boundaries of tragedy, not least through the play’s distinctive illustrations of suicide. Moreover, A Midsummer Night’s Dream in particular proves a striking counterpoint here.