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“Immortal Longings:  Suicide of Honor in Seneca, Shakespeare and Mishima”


A major distinguishing feature, however, between the suicides in “Patriotism” and those in Shakespeare and Seneca is the overwhelming, even repellent, physical detail with which Mishima describes the deaths of the young couple, especially the Lieutenant’s.  Following a proscribed ritual, the young soldier pierces himself with his sword, cuts as deeply as he can, until he eviscerates himself.  Then, with some assistance from Reiko, who loosens his military collar and becomes at that point a participant as well as a witness, the Lieutenant manages to cut his throat, giving himself literally the death blow.


Mishima himself, sharing some of the disaffections of Lieutenant Takeyama’s fellow soldiers toward the government, committed suicide in much the same ceremonial fashion as the Lieutenant, but with some deviations in style.  Mishima’s ritual disembowelment was performed publicly, and his assistant was reportedly a male lover, not his wife.  Additional assistance was given by a third person when Mishima’s lover was unable to complete the final act that Mishima had called for:  decapitation.


Seneca, Shakespeare and Mishima all tend to make distinctions among various kinds of suicide, accepting some and condemning others. In spite of cultural dissimilarities, all three as a rule treat the suicide of honor with respect and even enthusiasm.  In some cases, such as “Patriotism” and Antony and Cleopatra, love and honor are inseparable, and the combination makes any suicide in their joint behalf all the more positive.  It is probable that these three authors would have had no difficulty applying to their suicides of honor the generalization made by late nineteenth-century German scholar-philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil: “The thought of suicide is a great consolation:  by means of it one gets successfully through many a bad night.”


Sources Consulted


Augustine.  Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans. Trans. Henry Bettenson; Intro. David Knowles. Harmondsworth, Middlesex Eng.: Penguin Books, l972.


Mishima, Yukio [Kimitake Hiraoka].  “Patriotism.” Death in Midsummer and Other Stories.  New York: New Directions, l966.


Seneca.   Ad Lucilium.  Epistolae Morales.  Trans. Richard M. Grummere.  3 Vols.  Loeb Classical Library.   Cambridge, MA and London:  Harvard University Press and William Heinemann Ltd. Vols. I  1917, reprinted l934;  and Vol. III 1925, revised and reprinted l953; and London and New York:  William Henemann Ltd. G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Vol. II, l920, reprinted 1930.


Seneca.  Moral Essays.  Trans. John W. Basore.  3 Vols. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, MA and London:  Harvard University Press and William Heinemann Ltd., Vol. I. 1928, reprinted l958; Vol. II. l932, revised and reprinted 1935; Vol. II 192, reprinted l958.


Shakespeare, William. Antony and Cleopatra.  Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine.  New Folger Library Editions.  New York:  Washington Square Press, 2005.


Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar.  Ed. David Bevington and David Scott Kastan.  Bantam Classic.  New York:  Bantam Dell/ Random House, 2005.


Shakespeare, William.  The Rape of Lucrece.  In The Narrative Poems and Poems of Doubtful Authenticity. Rev. Ed. Richard Wilbur and Alfred Harbage.  The Pelican Shakespeare.  Baltimore:  Penguin Books, l974





Per Contra - Fall 2006

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