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The Music of the Close

The Music of the Close: The Final Scenes of Shakespeare's Tragedies

Copyright Date: 1978
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Music of the Close
    Book Description:

    In this book, Walter Foreman studies the closing scenes of Shakespeare's tragedies, considering the tragic structure of the plays and the shapes the tragic characters give their lives by the way they encounter death.

    Foreman sees in the variety of tragic endings of the plays evidence that Shakespeare consciously experimented with tragic forms, for when he repeated he also changed, and changed more than superficially. Further, Foreman believes that these varieties and extensions of dramatic form were fundamentally a way of experiencing a various, often mysterious world. Extending and exploring the possibilities of tragic form, the playwright created dramatic worlds that mirror the possibilities of our own.

    Among the tragedies, Foreman finds three --Hamlet, King Lear,and Antony and Cleopatra -- that are more complex than the rest. He devotes the three final chapters of his book to the closing scenes of these plays and his readings of them are richly rewarding, giving new insights into Hamlet's acceptance of death, Lear's isolation in a moral storm, and Cleopatra's triumphant staging of her own death.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-6292-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. 1 Tragic Death and Dull Survival
    (pp. 1-28)

    A DYING man, early in one of Shakespeare’s tragedies, tells us that “the tongues of dying men / Enforce attention like deep harmony”:

    He that no more must say is listened more

    Than they whom youth and ease have taught to glose.

    More are men’s ends marked than their lives before.

    The setting sun, and music at the close,

    As the last taste of sweets, is sweetest last,

    Writ in remembrance more than things long past.

    (R2II.i.5–6, 9–14)

    It is to the harmony of the tragic close in Shakespeare that I wish to devote my attention in...

  5. 2 An Art of Dying
    (pp. 29-72)

    DEATH, that first and most obvious characteristic of a Shakespearean tragedy, so often becomes for the tragic figures a thing to be desired. At least from Richard II on, a death wish is either acted on or deeply and extensively felt by nearly all of them. Actually there seems to be an almost absolute distinction between these alternatives: Timon excepted, those central characters who most profoundly wish for death, those characters for whom the death wish becomes a way of life, do not kill themselves. For the tragic figures who do kill themselves, death is desirable as an alternative to...

  6. 3 Hamlet
    (pp. 73-112)

    HAMLET, more than any of the other tragedies, is structured by a mutual, personal, increasingly recognized antagonism between two characters. The antagonism is apparent from Hamlet’s first words, in I.ii; and with the disclosure of the King’s crime and with Hamlet’s vow of revenge in I.v, we know how the antagonism will end—we know that a final showdown between these two men will end the play. The dramatic tension builds to this point and builds through a series of displacements or versions or avoidances of the principal conflict. Hamlet sees this conflict between himself and the King as a...

  7. 4 King Lear
    (pp. 113-158)

    ONE can see why the last scenes ofHamlet,Othello,Macbeth, and even, in its own queer way,Antony and Cleopatramust be as they are. In these plays the end seems to be inevitable, given the action that leads up to it. InHamlet, for instance, the plot moves through a series of displacements toward that inevitable confrontation between Hamlet and Claudius—one senses this from the beginning. Inevitability is sometimes considered necessary to the sense of tragedy, and when it is absent one is likely to feel that one has stumbled upon a melodrama. InKing Learone...

  8. 5 Othello and Antony & Cleopatra
    (pp. 159-202)

    THE final scenes ofAntony and CleopatraandKing Learare Shakespeare’s most unconventional and fascinating tragic conclusions, andAntony and CleopatraV.ii is my principal interest in this chapter. But there are certain remarkable similarities and contrasts in the themes and structures ofOthelloandAntony and Cleopatrawhich make their juxtaposition especially revealing of Shakespeare’s command and exploration of tragic form. In these two plays the final scenes, each about 370 lines long, contain a more crucial part of the essential tragic process than the final scenes of any other Shakespearean tragedies—inOthellobecause so much happens,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 203-218)
  10. Index
    (pp. 219-228)