[ From the archives. Originally posted March 12, 2008. ]
I saw a post recently on the most badass things to say before you take someone's life. I thought, "Aw come on, Shakespeare cornered that market 400 years ago!" So I present the 5 best lines in Shakespeare spoken by someone just before killing someone else.
Honorable Mention : The list would not be complete without Henry V's "St. Crispin's Day" speech (Act IV, Scene 3). It is quite possibly the greatest motivational speech in all of Shakespeare. Since they're going into battle, it is technically something cool to say before you go kill somebody. But since he's not actually in the process of killing somebody, and saying it to that person, I couldn't count it in my list.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
#5) Othello, Act V Scene 2
"O perjured woman! thou dost stone my heart, And makest me call what I intend to do A murder, which I thought a sacrifice."
Translation? "I'm planning on killing you, but please stop making me feel bad about it. "
The context for this one is just great. Othello has convinced himself that Desdemona, his supposedly unfaithful wife, has to die. He's worked up the courage, and even then he can't bring himself to mar her beautiful skin (so he decides to smother her with a pillow). He then interrogates her to get her to confess her sin. "Have you prayed tonight?" is an earlier line, which if you think about it is a great way to start a murder as well. How do you ask someone that without having them ask, "Why...what exactly are you planning to do with that pillow?"
To her credit, Desdemona doesn't even turn her husband in. When asked who did it, she replies before dying, "Nobody, I myself. Farewell. Commend me to my kind lord." If Othello was already feeling guilty about it, that must have really kicked it up a notch.
#4) Hamlet, Act V Scene 2
"Here, thou incestuous, murderous, damned Dane, Drink off this potion. Is thy union here? Follow my mother."
The entire play up to this point has supposedly been about Hamlet's revenge for his father's death at the hands of Claudius. For three hours we've been waited for him to "revenge the foul and most unnatural murder", which Hamlet has promised to do "with wings as swift as meditation or the thoughts of love." Along the way he kills his girlfriend's father (which at least in part causes her to lose her mind and kill herself), and is sent away to London where he escapes on a pirate ship, arranging to have two of his former friends from college killed in his place. So what causes him to finally snap? His mom drops dead, poisoned by Claudius. Now it's on, bitches. In front of the entire court he not only stabs Claudius (who is the king, don't forget), but when Claudius yells that he is only wounded, Hamlet pours the rest of the poison down his throat. At this moment is he thinking "Here's revenge for my dad"? Nope, our dear Hamlet is thinking about mom. You can even tell by the way he says it -- "incestuous" is a worse sin than "murderous." It's hard to tell what is the worse crime in Hamlet's eyes, the fact that Claudius killed him mom, or that he slept with her.
#3) Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene 1
"Now, Tybalt, take the villain back again, That late thou gavest me; for Mercutio's soul Is but a little way above our heads, Staying for thine to keep him company: Either thou, or I, or both, must go with him."
Ok, your best friend Mercutio is dead. Technically it's your fault, you held him back and allowed Tybalt to sneak in a cheap shot. And now the bad guy's come back to gloat. You're pissed off. Here's the thing, though - you don't know if you're as good a swordsman as he is. Quite frankly you're a bit worried about that. Mercutio was the only one in the play with the guts to take him on, and he's dead now. So what do you do? You challenge the bad guy on the spot (that's what that "take the villain back again that late you gavest me" thing is all about, by the way). And then you tell him, "Mercutio's not dying alone, not today. Either you, or I, or both of us are going with him." The image of Mercutio's soul watching the battle is a particularly powerful one, giving Romeo that extra motivation he needs to do what must be done.
It might not be the most badass way to launch yourself at your enemy, what with the whole "I might be the one who dies now" thing, but it is a pretty awesome way to get some revenge for your fallen friend.
#2) Titus Andronicus, Act V Scene 3
"Why, there they are both, baked in that pie; Whereof their mother daintily hath fed, Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred. 'Tis true, 'tis true; witness my knife's sharp point."
Titus Andronicus is not well known among folks who don't study Shakespeare's entire works. It is, to put it bluntly, a horror show. There's rape, mutilation, and plenty of murder. But perhaps what Titus is most infamous for is this moment, when Titus has actually cooked Tamora's sons and fed them to her! They were the ones who raped and mutilated Titus' daughter, you see. So that's how he gets his revenge. "Looking for the boys? Yeah, they're in the pie that their mother is eating." Then, without even giving them time to say "Ok, gonna be sick!" he follows up with "Witness my knife's sharp point!" stab stab stab. A fairly modern movie adapation of Titus had Anthony Hopkins in the lead role. That's right, the man who made Hannibal The Cannibal Lecter famous, took on the role of Shakespeare's cannibal as well. (Ok, technically Titus didn't actually do any of the flesh eating, cut me some slack.)
#1) Macbeth, Act V, Scene x
"I will not yield, To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet, And to be baited with the rabble's curse. Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane, And thou opposed, being of no woman born, Yet I will try the last. Before my body I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff, And damn'd be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!'"
When it comes to being a badass, Macbeth gets the trophy for the best final words in all of Shakespeare. Throughout the entire play, everything the witches have told him has come true. They told him he'd be king, and he is. They told him that Birnam wood would come to Dunsinane, and it did. They told him that "no man of woman born" could harm him, and until now, he's believed it. That is, until he learned that MacDuff, who stands before him, was "from his mother's womb untimely ripped." He's got no reason to doubt that the man standing in front of him is the one who is going to kill him.
Does he back down? Does he "yield"? Macduff has even given him the opportunity to do so, to "yield, coward, and live to be the show and gaze o' the time." Oh hell no. Macbeth raises himself up, throws down his shield and tells him, in no uncertain terms, to f*ck off. If Macbeth is going down, he's going down fighting. "I will try the last," he says, and then offers a challenge of his own: "Damned be him that first cries Hold, enough!" If you're Macduff right now, even with the prophecy on your side, you're quaking in your boots just a little bit.
Of course, Macbeth ends up dead, which does seem a bit anti-climactic. But it's still a great thing to say before launching yourself at the guy. "You know, there's a 99.99999% chance that you're gonna win this one, but you know what? You're still getting my best game, bitch. Bring it."