Quick revise

After studying this section you should be able to understand:

  • why the ending is important
  • techniques that Shakespeare used for ending his plays.

The ending of any play is very important as it leaves the audience with the final impression of the drama they have just spent two or three hours watching. In order for the play to have maximum impact, it is important that the ending is effective.

The ending of the play:

  • develops from the action of the play and forms a natural conclusion
  • draws together all the threads of the plot
  • resolves and sorts out problems, confusions and conflicts that have been developed through the course of the action • creates a dramatic climax
  • often has a sense of future happiness or reconciliation or a sense that a start is being made .

Think about the ending of the play you are studying and match to the features it possesses:

a sense of happiness
sense of a new start
feelings of sadness/
tragic consequences
conflicts resolved
confusions sorted out.

Put simply, Shakespeare’s tragedies always end in the death of the central character and usually a number of other characters too – whereas, in the comedies, there are no deaths and things end happily.

Techniques used for ending plays In Romeo and Juliet, for example, this is what happens: Romeo (thinking Juliet is dead) goes to the Capulet vault. He encounters Paris and kills him. He finds the body of Juliet and drinks his poison to die with her. She wakes up from her drugged sleep to find the dead Romeo. Grief stricken,she stabs herself to death.

Revision Tip: Have ideas about your response to the ending of the play.Exam questions sometimes ask you to write about the effectiveness of the ending of the play you are studying.

Romeo and Juliet ends with the deaths of three characters, including that of Romeo and Juliet. However, Shakespeare does not leave the tragedy there. Tragic though the ending is, there is also a note of hope for the future in that the deaths of Romeo and Juliet have brought together the feuding Montagues and Capulets.

Prince: A glooming peace this morning with it brings;

The sun for sorrow will not show his head.

Go hence to have more talk of these sad things;

Some shall be pardoned, and some punished.

For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

Romeo and Juliet Act V, scene iii, lines 304–309

In a comedy, such as Twelfth Night, there are no such tragic deaths. Here is what happens in the final scene:

Viola is reunited with her twin brother, Sebastian, whom she thought had drowned at sea.

The confusion over Viola’s disguise is sorted out and she

and Orsino plan to marry. Sebastian and Olivia love each other and they plan to marry.

Everyone is happy at the end, with the exception of Malvolio who is angry at having been tricked.

Revision Tip: Look carefully at the play you are studying and make a brief plan of the way in which Shakespeare brings it to an end.


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