If the epilogue to the Tempest is Shakespeare’s official farewell to the theatre, then the last speech of TTNK (not including the epilogue strongly presumed to be authored by Fletcher) is Shakespeare’s ultimate farewell of farewells; as it is likely, other than his will, it is the last thing he wrote. It is a speech that to me ranks as one of the most momentous in the canon as it summarizes one of the most profound and ultimate truths: uncertainty & the vicissitudes of fortune. It is render’d in poetic terms unmatch’d by any:
[5.4 lines 123-136] A day or two
Let us look sadly, and give grace unto
The funeral of Arcite, in whose end
The visages of bridegrooms we’ll put on
And smile with Palamon; for whom an hour,
But one hour since, I was as dearly sorry
As glad of Arcite; and am now as glad
As for him sorry. O you heavenly charmers,
What things you make of us! For what we lack,
We laugh, for what we have, are sorry; still
Are children in some kind. Let us be thankful
For that which is, and with you leave dispute
That are above our question. Let’s go off,
And bear us like the time.
I think it’s heartwarming to note the last speech Shakespeare ever wrote leaves us with the bard’s impression of what it means to appreciate our lives. Shakespeare certainly realized he had lived an incredible life and here two years before his death he writes his thanks: “Let us be thankful for that which is, and…leave dispute that are above our question.” What a beautiful motto for us to live by as we navigate through life and continue to discover what it means to be human. We thank you, William Shakespeare.