Death, Dying, Grief and Mourning

            "Death is always the same,
                               but each man dies in his own way."

Carson McCullers, Clock Without Hands, 1960


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in Western Literature

An Anthology by  Adrienne Nater

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Death, Dying, Grief, and Mourning

in Western Literature


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Shakespeare, Richard II, 1597

Anticipation of his (Richard’s) Death and last words...

Shakespeare, Othello, 1601

Death of Othello and Desdemona

Shakespeare, Hamlet 1603

Death of Ophelia

Shakespeare, King Henry V, 1605

Death of Falstaff

Shakespeare, Anthony And Cleopatra, 1605

Death of Cleopatra

Shakespeare, King Lear, 1606

Death of Cordelia

Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1606

Death of Lady Macbeth

Shakespeare, Richard II, 1597

Act V, Scene V

Anticipation of his (Richard’s) Death and last words:


Ha, ha! Keep time: — how sour sweet music is

When time is broke and no proportion kept!

So is in the music of men’s lives,

And here have I the daintiness of ear

To check time broke in a disorder’d string;

But, for the concord of my state and time,

Had not an ear to hear my true time broke.

I wasted time, and now doth time waste me;

For now hath time made me his numbering clock:

My thoughts are minutes; and, with sighs, they jar

Their watches on unto mine eyes, the outward watch,

Whereto my finger, like a dial’s point,

Is pointing still, in cleansing them from tears.

Now, sir, the sound that tells what hour it is,

Are clamorous groans that strike upon my heart,

Which is the bell: so sighs, and tears, and groans,

Show minutes, times, and hours: — but my time

Runs posting on in Bolingbroke’s proud joy,

While I stand fooling here, his Jack ‘o the clock.

This music mads me; let it sound no more;

For though it have holp madmen to their wits,

For me it seems it will make wise men mad.

Yet blessing on his heart that gives it me!

For ‘tis a sign of love; and love to Richard

Is a strange brooch in this all-hating world.


…Mount, mount, my soul! Thy seat is up on high;

Whilst my gross flesh sinks downward, here to die.







Shakespeare, Othello, 1601

Act V, Scene I


Death of Othello and Desdemona:


Othello: Soft you: a word or two before you go.

          I have done the state some service, and they know’t:

          No more of that. — I pray you, in your letters,

          When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,

          Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,

          Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak

          Of one that loved not wisely, but too well;

          Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought,

          Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,

          Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away

          Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued eyes,

          Albeit unused to the melting mood,

          Drops tears as fast as the Arabian trees

          Their medicinal gum. Set you down this:

          And say besides that in Aleppo once,

          Where a malignant and turbaned Turk

          Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,

          I took by th’ throat the circumcised dog

          And smote his — thus.

                                               Stabs himself

 Lodovico:  O bloody period.


Gratiano:    All that is spoke is marred.


Othello:      I kissed thee ere I killed thee.

No way but this,

Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.


Cassio:        This did I fear, but thought he had no


                   For he was great of heart.

Lodovico: [To Iago] O Spartan dog,

                   More fell than anguish, hunger, or the sea,

                   Look on the tragic loading of this bed:

                   This is thy work. The object poisons sight;

                   Let it be hid.                         

                                       [Bed curtains are drawn]

                             Gratiano, keep the house

                   And seize upon the fortunes of the Moor,

                   For they succeed on you. To you, lord governor,

                   The time, the place, the torture: O, enforce it!

                   Myself will straight abroad, and to the state

                   This heavy act with heavy heart relate.




Shakespeare, Hamlet 1603

Act 4 Scene 7

Death of Ophelia:

    Enter Queen


                    One woe doth tread upon another’s heel,

                   So fast they follow. Your sister’s drowned, Laertes.


Laertes:       Drowned? O, where?



There is a willow grows askant the brook

That shows his hoar leaves in the glassy stream.

Therewith fantastic garlands did she make

Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies, and long purples,

That liberal shepherds give a grosser name,

But our cold maids do “dead men’s fingers” call them.

There on the pendant boughs her coronet weeds

Clamb’ring to hang, an envious sliver broke,

When down her weedy trophies and herself

Fell in the weeping brook. Her clothes spread wide,

And mermaid-like awhile they bore her up,

Which time she chanted snatches of old lauds,

As one incapable of her own distress

Or like a creature native and endued

Unto that element. But long it could not be

Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,

Pulled the poor wretch from her melodious lay

          to muddy death.


Laertes:      Alas, then she is drowned.


Queen:        Drowned, drowned.


Laertes:       Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,

                   And therefore I forbid my tears. But yet

                    It is our trick; nature her custom holds,

                   Let shame say what it will. When these are gone,

                    The woman will be out. — Adieu, my lord.

                    I have a speck o’fire that fain would blaze,

                    But that this folly drowns it.


Shakespeare, King Henry V, 1605

Act II, Scene III


Death of Falstaff:


Quickly:       Nay, sure, he’s not in hell: he’s in

                   Arthur’s bosom, if ever man went to Arthur’s

                   bosom. ‘A made a finer end, and went away,

                   an it had been any christom child; ‘a parted

                   even just between twelve and one, even at the

                   turning o’ the tide: for after I saw him fumble

                   with the sheets, and play with the flowers, and smile

                   upon his fingers’ ends, I knew there was but one

          way; for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and ‘a

babbled of green fields.  How now, Sir John!

quoth I: what, man! Be o’ good cheer. So ‘a

cried out — God, God, God! Three or four times.

Now I, to comfort him bid him ’a should not

think of God; I hoped there was no need to

trouble himself with any such thoughts yet.

to ‘a bade me to lay more clothes on his feet;

I put my hand into the bed and felt them, and

they were as cold as any stone; then I felt to his

knees, and so upward and upward, and all was

cold as any stone.


Shakespeare, Anthony And Cleopatra, 1605

Act V, Scene II

Death of Cleopatra:

Cleopatra:    Give me my robe. Put on my crown. I have

                    Immortal longings in me. Now no more

                    The juice of Egypt’s grapes shall moist this lip.

                    Yare, yare, good Iras; quick, Methinks I hear

                    Anthony call. I see him rouse himself

                    To praise my noble act. I hear him mock

                    The luck of Caesar, which the god’s give men

                    To excuse their after wrath. Husband, I come!

                    Now to that name my courage prove my title!

                    I am fire and air; my other elements

                    I give to baser life. So have you done?

                    Come then and take the last warmth of my lips.

                    Farewell, kind Charmian. Iras long farewell

                                    Kisses them. Iras falls and dies.

                   Have I the aspic in my lips? Dost fall?

                   If thou and nature can so gently part,

                   The stroke of death is as a lover’s pinch,

                   Which hurts, and is desired. Dost though lie still?

                   If thus thou vanishest, thou tell’st the world

                   It is not worth leave-taking.


Shakespeare, King Lear, 1606

Act V, Scene III

Death of Cordelia:

Enter Lear, with Cordelia in his arms,
[the Officer and others following].

Lear:    Howl, howl, howl! O you are men of stones:    

          Had I your tongues and eyes, I’d use them so

That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone for ever.

I know when one is dead and when one lives;

She’s dead as earth. Lend me a looking-glass;

If that her breath will mist or stain the stone,

Why then she lives.

Kent:    Is this the promised end?


Edgar:   Or image of that horror?


Albany:  Fall and cease


Lear:  This feather stirs — she lives! If it be so,

          It is a chance which does redeem all sorrows

          That ever I have felt.


Kent: O my good master.


Lear: Prithee, away


Edgar:  ‘Tis noble Kent, your friend.         


Lear:   A plague upon you murderers, traitors all!

          I might have saved her; now she’s gone for ever.

          Cordelia, Cordelia, stay a little. Ha!

          What is’t thou sayest? Her voice was ever soft,

          Gentle and low, an excellent thing in woman.

          I killed the slave that was a-hanging thee.


Gentleman:   ‘Tis true, my lords, he did.


Lear:   Did I not, fellow?

          I have seen the day, with my good biting falchion

          I would have made him skip. I am old now,

          And these same crosses spoil me. Who are you?

          Mine eyes are not o’ th’ best, I’ll tell you straight.


Kent:   If Fortune brag of two she loved and hated,

          One of them we behold.


Lear:  This is a dull sight. Are you not Kent?


Kent:   The Same —

          Your servant Kent. Where is your servant Caius?


Lear:   He’s a good fellow, I can tell you that;

          He’ll strike, and quickly too. He’s dead and rotten.


Kent:  No, my good lord; I am the very man.


Lear:  I’ll see that straight.


Kent:  That from your first of difference and decay

          Have followed your sad steps.


Lear: You are welcome hither.


Kent:  Nor no man else. All’s cheerless, dark and deadly.

          Your eldest daughters have fordone themselves,

          And desperately are dead.


Lear:  Ay, so I think.


Albany:  He knows not what he says, and vain is it

             That we present us to him.


                   Enter a Messenger


Edgar:   Very bootless.


Messenger:  Edmund is dead my lord.


Albany:       That’s but a trifle here.

          You lords and noble friends, know our intent:

          What comfort to this great decay may come

          Shall be applied. For us, we will resign,

          During the life of this old majesty,

          To him our absolute power; [To Edgar and Kent] you to Your rights,

          With boot and such addition as your honors

          Have more than merited. All friends shall taste

          The wages of their virtue, and all foes

The cup of their deservings. — O see, see


Death of Lear:


Lear:  And my poor fool is hanged! No, no, no life!

          Why should a dog, a horse, a rat have life,

          And though 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.                                          He dies


Edgar: He faints. My lord, my lord!


Kent:  Break, heart; I Prithee break.


Edgar: Look up, my lord.


Kent:   Vex not his ghost, O, let him pass! He hates him

           That would upon the rack of this tough world

           Stretch his out longer.


Edgar:  He is gone indeed.


Kent:    The wonder is that he hath endured so long;

            He but usurped his life.


Albany: Bear them from hence. Our present business

             Is general woe. [To Kent and Edgar] Friends of my soul,

             You twain/

             Rule in this realm and the gored state sustain.


Kent:  I have a journey, sir, shortly to go.

          My master calls me; I must not say no.


Edgar: The weight of this sad time we must obey,

           Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

           The oldest hath borne most: we that are young

           Shall never see so much, nor live so long.


                                                                     Exeunt, with a dead march.


 Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1606

Act V, Scene 1

Death of Lady Macbeth:


Enter Lady Macbeth, with a taper


Gentlewoman:  Lo you here she comes! This is her very guise, and, upon

                        my life, fast asleep. Observe her; stand close.


Doctor:             How came she by that light?


Gentlewoman:  Why, it stood by her: she has light by her continually; ‘tis her



Doctor:           You see, her eyes are open.


Gentlewoman:  Ay, but their senses are shut.


Doctor:             What is it she does now? Look, how she rubs her hand.


Gentlewoman:   It is an accustomed action with her, to seem thus washing

her hands. I have know her to continue in this a quarter of an hour.


Lady Macbeth: Yet here’s a spot.


Doctor:            Hark! She speaks. I will set down what come from her, to satisfy

                       my remembrance the more strongly.


Lady Macbeth:  Out, damned spot! Out, I say! — One; two. Why,

                        Then ‘tis time to do’t — Hell is murky. — Fie, my lord, fie!

                         a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when

                        none can call our power to account? — Yet who would have

                        thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?


Doctor:              Do you mark that?


Lady Macbeth:   The Thane of Fife had a wife; where is she now? — What, will

                         these hands ne’er be clean? — No more o’ that, my lord,

                         no more o’ that! You mar all with this starting.


Doctor:              Go to, go to; you have known what you should not.


Gentlewoman:    She has spoke what she should not, I am sure of that Heaven

                         knows what she has known.


Lady Macbeth:   Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the

 perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten

 this little hand. O, O, O!


Doctor:              What a sigh is there!

The heart is sorely charged.


Gentlewoman:    I would not have such a heart in my bosom

 for the dignity of the whole body.


Doctor:              Well, well, well.


Gentlewoman:    Pray God it be, sir.


Doctor:             This disease is beyond my practice. Yet I have known those which have walked in their

sleep who have died holily in their beds.       


Lady Macbeth:   Wash your hands, put on your nightgown, look not so pale:

       I tell you again, Banquo’s buried; he cannot come out on’s


Doctor:              Even so?


Lady Macbeth:   To bed, to bed; there’s knocking at the gate. Come, come,

come, come, give me your hand. What’s done cannot be undone.        

To bed, to bed, to bed.


Doctor:               Will she now go to bed?


 Gentlewoman:    Directly.


Doctor:              Foul whisp’rings are abroad. Unnatural deeds

                         Do breed unnatural troubles. Infected minds

                         To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets.

                         More needs she the divine than the physician.

      God, God forgive us all! Look after her,

      Remove from her the means of annoyance,

      And still keep eyes upon her. So good night.

      I think, but dare not speak.

Gentlewoman:   Good night, good doctor.


Act V, Scene v


Response of Macbeth to the death of Lady Macbeth:


Seyton:  The Queen, my lord, is dead.


Macbeth:  She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word. —

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.



Adrienne Nater, 2008

©© 2008 Adrienne Nater. All rights reserved.