Prayer before dying

Desdemonda’s prayer before dying

We’ve teamed up with the most excellent Master of Verona (aka David Blixt) to trade blog posts this week. Here’s his take on one of his all time favorite Shakespeare moments. Jump into the debate and tell us yours in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

I was recently considering my favorite moments in Shakespeare. Having performed about half the canon, there are plenty for me to choose from. I tend to lean towards the heart-breaking. Juliet’s line to dead Romeo: “Thy lips are warm.” Kent holding his dead king: “Vex not his ghost. O, let him pass.” Things like that.

But my favorite moment in all of Shakespeare, the one that kills me every time, is from OTHELLO. Perversely, it’s a line that’s almost always cut in performance.

By Act V, our Tragic hero is utterly convinced that his faithful wife is anything but, that she has been carrying on with Cassio. But he still loves her – if he did not he could not be so passionately moved. So, though he has resolved to kill her, he first must make certain she has prayed:

OTHELLO:  Have you pray’d tonight, Desdemon?

DESDEMONA: Ay, my lord.

OTHELLO: If you bethink yourself of any crime

Unreconciled as yet to heaven and grace,

Solicit for it straight.

DESDEMONA: Alas, my lord, what do you mean by that?

OTHELLO: Well, do it, and be brief; I will walk by:

I would not kill thy unprepared spirit;

No; heaven forfend! I would not kill thy soul.

DESDEMONA :  Talk you of killing?

OTHELLO: Ay, I do.

DESDEMONA:  Then heaven

Have mercy on me!

OTHELLO: Amen, with all my heart!

This is from the Elizabethan tradition that a prayer before dying will cleanse the soul, sending it to Heaven. It’s actually a rather Lutheran belief, not needing a priest to intercede between penitent and God. This same belief stops Hamlet from murdering his uncle while Claudius is bent in prayer.  Here, Othello is making sure that, though she must die, Desdemona’s soul will go to paradise. His passion and his honor demand her death, his love demand her soul be saved.

He kills her, smothering her with a pillow – twice. Although when I last staged it, the second time he goes to kill her, I had him tenderly hold her, then break her neck. This is because, like so many Shakespearean characters, she must talk after she is murdered. Mercutio does this, and Paris, and young Macduff, and countless others – they are dead, and speaking their last. So, too, does Desdemona. But a woman smothered to death is unlikely to speak, hence my choice to have her die slowly of a broken neck.

Her maid Emilia rushes into the room and kneels beside her dying mistress, while Othello looks on.

EMILIA:  Out, and alas! that was my lady’s voice.

Help! help, ho! help! O lady, speak again!

Sweet Desdemona! O sweet mistress, speak!

DESDEMONA: A guiltless death I die.

EMILIA: O, who hath done this deed?

DESDEMONA: Nobody; I myself. Farewell.

Commend me to my kind lord: O, farewell!

This is my favorite line in Shakespeare. “Nobody; I myself.” Desdemona loves Othello so much, so deeply and truly, that she tells this lie for him. Her love is deeper than Othello’s, because it can forgive anything – even her own murder.

Here’s why this moment wreaks havoc on me. By saying she did it, she is telling a lie. Thus committing a sin. Thus damning her soul to Hell to protect the man who just murdered her. Desdemona willingly condemns herself to eternal damnation to save Othello. It’s so awfully, wonderfully Tragic I can hardly breathe.

As I mentioned, this moment is hardly ever staged. It’s too hard, or too funny, to have a murdered woman talk. But staged properly, it has all the more power, because it shows the depth of the love Othello has just cast away.

It’s my favorite moment in Shakespeare.

www.nosweatshakespeare.com

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This piece was commissioned by PEN World Voices for the event “Prayer and Meditation,” for which writers and artists were asked to write an original prayer for our time. 

I grew up in houses where we prayed every morning and every night. First with my minister uncle in Haiti. Then with my parents and brothers in Brooklyn. Yet it was very hard for me to write a prayer for this evening. I think this is in part because I was taught that our prayers are meant to be private.

The prayers the people in my life prayed usually highlighted our most urgent desires. There were times when we prayed for food. Times when we prayed for loved ones to be released from jail. Times later on when we would pray for our family members, including our parents, not to die.

Still, our most profound prayers are prayers of gratitude. Or so my mother used to say. Simply saying mèsi or thank you is in itself a prayer. Saying souple, s’il vous plait, please, can also be a kind of prayer.

When my mother was dying of cancer, she and I prayed together a lot. The Bible says to “pray without ceasing,” she kept reminding me.

I remember the exact moment when she stopped praying to be healed and started praying for peace, la pè, her shorthand for a peaceful transition. We called those final prayers, our surrender prayers.

I used to tell myself that writing is a kind of prayer, that silence can be prayer, that even children are prayers, living and growing prayers. That love is the most powerful prayer of all.
My prayer, which is shorter than this introduction, is inspired by my mother. It is the prayer I imagined her saying in her head during her final moments on this earth, during those final minutes when she couldn’t speak anymore but could still hear a little bit, as she was drifting away.

Dear Lord,

Please let this be my final prayer, my very final prayer. Let there be no more need for me to ask anything else of you and of this sometimes shaken and sometimes troubled but beautiful earth.

Please let this be the last time I think of you, before we see each other face-to-face, light-to-light, or wind-to-wind, or sky-to-sky, or however we will be.

I can’t wait. I can’t wait to see what I will be: what colors, what shade, what light pillar, what rainbow, what moon bow, what sunbow, what glory, or what new sky.

Please let me now accept all of this. As I have already accepted this world and all that it is and has been.

And please let the world go on. Let the sun still rise and set. Let the rain still fall, quiet and soft at times, and hard at other times. Let the oceans be still or roar, as they always have. Please let the world go on as it always has, so that my children will know that only my spark has dimmed and not the entire world.

Please let my children remember me. Both the good and bad of me. Let them not forget one thing about me that could help them be better women and men.

Please let the pain racking my body stop.
Let it stop right now.
Please let my lungs stop aching. Please let my breath stop sounding like hammers in my ear.

Please don’t let all these drugs make me say anything hateful at this final hour.

Please make my daughter stop crying.

Please let it be a sunny day when they bury me.

Please let my children find the five hundred dollars I left in the tin can in the freezer—I really should have told them about that when I still could. Please don’t let them throw out my good blender. All it needs is a new blade.

Okay, maybe you can make my children forget all the times I spanked them. There might not be much to be gained from that.

Please let them say nice things about me at my funeral. Things I’ve never heard them say before, things I would never imagine them even thinking about me. Things that have nothing to do with being spanked.

But please don’t let them go on talking for too long at the service. Let them stop talking when it’s time.

And please let them know that I’ve always been praying for them just like this, silently, in my head. And that if it’s at all possible, I will never stop praying for them, like this, silently, from somewhere else.

Please remind them that none of us have all the time we think we have in this troubled but still beautiful world.

Please let them not bury me in an ugly dress.

Please guide them to my good wig. (I really should have told my daughter where it was.)

Please let them not be talked out of a closed coffin. I now only want YOU to see my face.

And please, please, let my children survive this. Let them survive this. For I will not just be their manman now. I will be their light pillar, their rainbow, their moon bow, their sunbow, their glory, their new sky.

Read the full anthology of prayers here.

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I say a prayer for you in this failing final hour.
He wants to take you home.
Just say a prayer for me and smile in my defeat
And live to suffer this no more.

I celebrate in the light of you
Breathed life from you, I fall apart without you
What can I do? it is burning inside you
I say a prayer for you, what will I do without you?
What more can I do? it is burning inside you.
I say a prayer for you. it is burning inside you.
Tell me what to do. it is burning inside you.

Источник teksty-pesenok.ru

Just tell me what to do in this fading final hour
Before you have to go
Just say a prayer for me, a sand upon the sea
I’m hearing angels at the door

I celebrate in the light of you
Breathed life from you, I fall apart without you
What can I do? it is burning inside you
I say a prayer for you, what will I do without you?
What more can I do? it is burning inside you.
I say a prayer for you. it is burning inside you.
Tell me what to do. it is burning inside you.

Я говорю вам молитву в этот последний последний час.
Он хочет отвезти тебя домой.
Просто скажи молитву за меня и улыбку в моем поражении
и жить терпеть это не больше.

Я праздную в свете вас
Дышащая жизнь от тебя, я разваливаюсь без тебя
Что я могу сделать? он горит внутри вас
Я говорю вам молитву, что я буду делать без вас?
Что еще я могу сделать? он горит внутри вас.
Я говорю вам молитву. он горит внутри вас.
Скажи мне что делать. он горит внутри вас.

Источник teksty-pesenok.ru

Просто скажи мне, что делать в этот угасающий последний час
Прежде чем вы должны пойти
Просто скажи мне молитву, песок на море
Я слышу ангелов у двери

Я праздную в свете вас
Дышащая жизнь от тебя, я разваливаюсь без тебя
Что я могу сделать? он горит внутри вас
Я говорю вам молитву, что я буду делать без вас?
Что еще я могу сделать? он горит внутри вас.
Я говорю вам молитву. он горит внутри вас.
Скажи мне что делать. он горит внутри вас.

teksty-pesenok.ru

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