There’s plenty of killing in Shakespeare’s works. Macbeth kills Duncan in his sleep, Hamlet kills Polonius (thinking him the king) in front of his mother, Tybalt kills Mercutio (accidentally?) and Romeo kills Tybalt (probably not accidentally).
Which do you feel is Shakespeare’s most shocking moment? The one that you absolutely do not see coming? Plenty of people die in Macbeth, but I’m not sure if any of the deaths is shocking. After all, when people aren’t dying or killing, they’re talking about it. Lot of blood in that one. The murder of Macduff’s family is scary, but you also know that the murderers have been dispatched, so you see it coming (even if you do see it from between your fingers, underneath your seat).
Mercutio’s death is pretty shocking, no doubt. Once upon a time we talked at length about how, up until this point, Romeo and Juliet is a romantic comedy. And then when the audience is least expecting it? Bang, likeable sidekick, dead. I think in fact that this one is so shocking that it takes a little while to sink in. There’s still half a play left to go.
Hamlet’s attack on a defenseless arras is certainly up there. He’s talking to his mom. He hears a noise. Thinking it *her husband*, not to mention *his uncle*, and oh by the way, *the frickin king*, he jumps up and without another word blindly stabs him. For a guy that’s spent the entire first half of the play saying “Let’s think this through…” it’s a pretty bold move.
But I think I’m going to give the prize to Iago murdering his wife Emilia right in front of everybody, to shut her up.
You think that we’ve already hit the climax of the play. Othello has
killed his wife, Emilia has discovered the truth, the authorities are
now on the scene and we’ve essentially moved into what I love calling
“the Horatio scene” where we wrap up all the loose ends before we go
home. Or are we?
O thou dull Moor! that handkerchief thou speak’st of
I found by fortune and did give my husband;
For often, with a solemn earnestness,
More than indeed belong’d to such a trifle,
He begg’d of me to steal it.
She give it Cassio! no, alas! I found it,
And I did give’t my husband.
Filth, thou liest!
By heaven, I do not, I do not, gentlemen.
O murderous coxcomb! what should such a fool
Do with so good a woman?
Are there no stones in heaven
But what serve for the thunder?–Precious villain!
He runs at IAGO
IAGO, from behind, stabs EMILIA, and exit
The woman falls; sure, he hath kill’d his wife.
We know that Iago is an evil bastard before this, of course. But he’s always been the schemer and manipulator. Now he’s in a room filled with the equivalent of a police squad ready to arrest him for his crimes. Does he just run? No, he *stabs his wife in front of everyone* first, and then he runs. That is just full on crazy, right there. Afterward you can argue “Sure, it was always clear he was capable of something like that,” but that’s a world apart from seeing it coming.
I love to read Gratiano’s line as, “WTF, did he just kill his wife?!” like even the characters on stage can’t believe what just happened.
Any other contenders? Make your case.