Some believe this is the greatest Shakespearean speech ever. Which, if true, would make it one of the great speeches in English literature:
Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune and do fly him
When he comes back; you demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites, and you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid,
Weak masters though ye be, I have bedimm’d
The noontide sun, call’d forth the mutinous winds,
And ‘twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire and rifted Jove’s stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory
Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck’d up
The pine and cedar: graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ’em forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.
—The Tempest, Act V, Scene i
This is the last great speech of the last play Shakespeare wrote entirely himself. And it’s not hard to see Shakespeare drawing a connection between the aging magician, Prospero, and himself, the aging playwright. For Prospero, at play’s end, is at the height of his magical powers; and arguably, The Tempest saw the playwright also at the height of his powers. Both the magician and playwright choose to ‘break my staff…’ A pun on his own name? Finally to ‘drown my book.’ And before these final pronouncements, the soliloquy registers a train of triumphs and accomplishments. Each of the lines of this speech easily harkens back to any innumerable scenes or characters in his thirty-some plays.
Like many of greatest artists and athletes of today’s world, the Bard chose to go out on top.
The image comes from Christopher Plummer as Prospero in a 2010 version of Shakespeare’s play.