“A tragedy”, they say. Then again, a lot of things seem to be called “tragedies” these days. People pretend the word means something important, something heart-wrenchingly sad, when in actual fact it was nothing but a vaguely interesting event in their mundane, mortal lives. They don’t know what a tragedy really is. They know the stories, they watch the curtain fall, then they dust off their hands and walk away feeling thoroughly righteous, knowing that such a thing will never happen to them.
They see the dead lying in the ripples on the surface, but never what waits in the deep for the survivors.
Remember Benvolio? He was never terribly auspicious, was he – only the proverbial third musketeer, trailing along in the wake of his two friends as they wrought the special brand of havoc that can only be wrought by boys who think themselves men. Of course, it’s the other two that people weep for. Poor Mercutio, spitted for his loyalty and dying with a laugh on his lips, and dear Romeo, dear romantic Romeo, lying eternally in the arms of the woman he never truly got a chance to love.
At least they died quickly.
What they don’t tell you is that Benvolio never reconciled himself to the deaths. Every day, week after week, year after year, he’d sit by their graves for hours on end, talking to them. He repeated every joke they ever told one another, relived every drink- and daring-fuelled misadventure. He even drank himself stupid in the graveyard on their birthdays, and ran home screaming in the dark. If you listened, you could hear their names amidst his tears.
He didn’t so much die as fade away, like ashes in the wind.
Remember Horatio? Yes, that strange friend of Prince Hamlet’s, the one who was never there when you expected him to be. The one who stood about and looked shocked as half the court died on each other’s swords, remarked upon only in the mad ravings of a dying prince. The sight of all that death burned itself so deep into his mind that it was impossible to gauge out.
He tried, though.
It seems that fate wasn't in the mood to indulge, for the knife didn’t go deep enough, and only succeeded in taking his eyes. Or maybe he tried too hard. The madness wasn’t long in settling itself where his eyes used to be.
He died screaming.
I could go on.
I could tell you about how newly-crowned King Malcolm burned a thousand of his subjects on pyres of green wood on charges of witchcraft.
I could tell you how Don Pedro hung himself, three months after he watched his treacherous brother swing from the very same tree.
I could tell you how Sebastian wept when he discovered that the pirate Antonio, his many-time champion and saviour, had been executed on Duke Orsino’s orders the very day after the duke’s wedding to Sebastian’s own sister.
I could tell you how pale Cassio turns at the mention of Cyprus, how he posts guards at every door and lies awake in the night, haunted by whispers and visions of handkerchiefs.
And I can tell you exactly why you'll believe me. Things are not always what they seem . . . and who knows it better than I?