How can I write an essay on the theme of death in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and Golding's Lord of the Flies?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Writing an essay focused on death and how it is treated by William Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar and by William Golding in Lord of the Flies is a bit complicated given the vast differences between plots and themes. There are, however, sufficient parallels between the two works to allow for some measure of comparative analysis, including with respect to the issue of death. Both works of literature involve conspiracy and betrayal. Both include murders, although those described in Julius Caesar conform more to conventional standards of “reality.” Both are tragedies in the truest sense of the word that depict the degradation of mankind into a murderous cycle of violence. The murders and deaths in Shakespeare’s work, which is based upon actual history, are the logical result of political machinations during an age when political enemies were as likely as not to resolve their differences violently (come to think of it, much of the world continues to function that way). The deaths in Lord of the Flies, particularly that of Simon, are described in the kind of detail reserved for the most horrific of scenarios, as when Simon is set upon by the gang of boys, once friends, who encircle him chanting, “Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!” The irony, of course, lies in the fact that Simon had arrived at Jack’s macabre celebration for the purpose of dispelling the notion of a frightful beast that turned out to be the parachute attached to the badly decomposed corpse of a long-dead pilot.

Contrast this with the more calibrated and “professional” means of death described by Shakespeare, whether it is the assassination of Caesar himself at the hands of his colleagues, or the later deaths of Brutus and Cassius seemingly as acts of contrition. In Act V, Scene III, of Julius Caesar, Cassius comes to grips with the consequences of his actions. Lamenting the path he had chosen, which has led to loss in battle, and despondent over the fate of Titinius, Cassius exclaims:

“Come down, behold no more.
O, coward that I am, to live so long,
To see my best friend ta'en before my face!”

Then, having convinced Pindarus to take stab him with his own sword, utters his last words:

“Caesar, thou art revenged,
Even with the sword that kill'd thee.”

The relationship between Ralph and Piggy did not involve the kind of treachery prevalent throughout Shakespeare’s play, but regret for the loss of an ally and friend whose premature death deprived him of the chance to express his feelings will haunt Ralph to the end of his days, as will the knowledge that, under the right circumstances, civilization will break down and devolve into murderous anarchy. As Golding describes the scene on the beach at the end of his novel:

“And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.”

The themes of death in these two classics of literature are difficult to compare, but both stories involve sufficient intrigue and betrayal, and death, to warrant the drafting of an essay on how the authors treat those themes.

Read the study guide:
Lord of the Flies

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