The “Dying Offstage” Rule

Following up on today’s earlier Mercutio question, here’s one in search of a more specific answer from some of our students of the theatre:

Sometimes characters go out of their way to die offstage, Mercutio being a prime example.  Why?

I’m assuming that there was some sort of structural framework that Shakespeare was following that required this.  Why not have Mercutio die onstage?  I’m guessing there’s a particular reason.

5 thoughts on “The “Dying Offstage” Rule

  1. The closest reason I could think of would be practical terms. A dead body on stage poses a lot of problems for a scene change, and in this case, a scene change would require the removal of two dead bodies, instead of just one. (When you need to lift a body, you need at least two people to do it effectively, as you are dealing with usually a 150 lbs of dead weight. (No pun intended)) In order to facilitate the scene change, it's often easier to have someone die offstage. That way the remaining actors can move scenery, instead of tying up two actors to move a body. Nowadays, it's much easier since we can use a blackout, but for the original staging, that wouldn't have been possible. So, it most likely comes down to technical concerns as to why so many people die offstage.

  2. Also, if the actor was double cast, he needed to go change costumes.

  3. Also, if the actor was double cast, he needed to go change costumes.

  4. christine says:

    as far as i can see, andrew nails it.

    duane, remember when rebel did "Hamlet?" My favorite part was when after ophelia's funeral the actor playing Polonius walked out, barefoot, and bent over and touched her, "waking" her and bringing her off stage. there were times in watching that show 10 times over where it actually made me cry because his expression was so sad, knowing and loving… and hers so confused.

    dying offstage has the easy out advantage. but letting the actors figure out how to deal with it onstage can sometimes be amazing.

    1. Vanessa Corrallo says:

      What is the theatrical name or Shakespearean term for dying offstage? What is the term in Greek tragedy for dying offstage?

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