Shakespeare Quotes

Breathe one's last

Warwick:
Come quickly, Montague, or I am dead.

Somerset:
Ah, Warwick, Montague hath breath'd his last,
And to the latest gasp cried out for Warwick,
And said, "Commend me to my valiant brother."

Henry The Sixth, Part 3 Act 5, scene 2, 39–42

When your library card "expires," what it's literally doing is "breathing out" its essence (that is, your borrowing privileges). When the Duke of Somerset reports that Warwick's brother Montague has "breathed his last," he's using "breathe" in this sense of "expire." Somerset leaves the phrase hanging, though: Montague has "breath'd his last" what? Elliptically, he means that Montague has drawn his last breath, or expired his last gasp. "Last gasp" is a phrase that entered the language about a decade before Shakespeare began writing, and he uses a version of the phrase—"latest gasp"—twice in this same play.

As the War of the Roses enters its penultimate act, hope seems lost for the Lancastrian faction, who support the weak King Henry VI. After a dizzying series of reversals for both the Lancastrians and Yorkists, the valiant Warwick, who has wreaked havoc on the forces of the usurper Edward IV, approaches his end, calling for help from his brother Montague. Somerset, who comes upon the wounded Warwick on the battlefield, is forced to report that Montague "hath breath'd his last," and with this news Warwick gives up the ghost.

Themes: death and sickness

Speakers: Warwick, Somerset