Definition of Epilogue

An epilogue is a short speech, poem, dirge, elegy or an event that comes at the end of a play, a novel or any other literary piece to close it or better to give it a finishing touch. There are three famous techniques used among which epilogue stands out as a unique technique as differentiated below.

Epilogue, Prologue, and Afterword

As prologue comes in the beginning, epilogue comes at the end. Hence, it is contrary to what is prologue. It is also different from another technique called afterword. In fact, it is an integral element of the story in which it occurs, but it comes after highest point is reached. Then it does its job of exposing the general nature and destiny of the characters. It takes place after some hours or a short while when characters appear and clarify their positions. The difference with afterword is that in afterword, the author directly guides the readers what takes place in the play, novel or short story. However, epilogue closes it, and the author does not speak. Rather, it is an explanation of the characters. It could be an attempt on the part of the writer to cover up his deficiency that he might have left in the story. Not all novels or stories have epilogues but where they are, they are highly powerful in closing the story.

Epilogue in Classical and Elizabethan Plays

Among Greeks and Elizabethans, using an epilogue at the end of a drama was considered a norm. An actor used to step out of others to directly address the audience, and then thanked them. However, in comedies, it was somewhat different. It used to demonstrate that all the characters are enjoying life contentedly, while in tragedies it was quite different where the sufferings of the tragic characters were revealed to have ended or not. The epilogue in tragedy usually presented a moral lesson associated with the play.

Significance of Epilogue in Literature

Though writers use epilogue extensively, it is sometimes a mystery why a writer has used. In fact, this strategy is adopted to quench the thirst of the readers to know more about characters, about climax and the life after the end of the story. This covers the loose strands of the story and makes them to be tied to each other, so that the story could be well-connected. It is also that sometimes a writer wants to carry on with his story, and he gives hint at the end that next part is coming.

Examples of Epilogue from Literature

Example 1

’Tis ten to one this play can never please
All that are here. Some come to take their ease,
And sleep an act or two; but those, we fear,
We have frighted with our trumpets; so ’tis clear,
They’ll say ’tis naught; others, to hear the city
Abused extremely, and to cry, “That’s witty!”
Which we have not done neither. That, I fear,
All the expected good we’re like to hear
For this play at this time is only in
The merciful construction of good women;
For such a one we show’d ’em. If they smile,
And say ’twill do, I know, within a while
All the best men are ours; for ’tis ill hap,
If they hold when their ladies bid ’em clap.

This is the epilogue of Henry VIII that comes at the end. This is one of the best epilogues in English literature and it clearly shows what an epilogue does and what it does not do.

Example 2

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

The drama’s done. Why then here does any one step forth?—Because one did survive the wreck.
It so chanced, that after the Parsee’s disappearance, I was he whom the Fates ordained to take the place of Ahab’s bowsman, when that bowsman assumed the vacant post; the same, who, when on the last day the three men were tossed from out of the rocking boat, was dropped astern. So, floating on the margin of the ensuing scene, and in full sight of it, when the halfspent suction of the sunk ship reached me, I was then, but slowly, drawn towards the closing vortex. When I reached it, it had subsided to a creamy pool. Round and round, then, and ever contracting towards the button-like black bubble at the axis of that slowly wheeling circle, like another Ixion I did revolve. Till, gaining that vital centre, the black bubble upward burst; and now, liberated by reason of its cunning spring, and, owing to its great buoyancy, rising with great force, the coffin life-buoy shot lengthwise from the sea, fell over, and floated by my side. Buoyed up by that coffin, for almost one whole day and night, I floated on a soft and dirgelike main. The unharming sharks, they glided by as if with padlocks on their mouths; the savage sea-hawks sailed with sheathed beaks. On the second day, a sail drew near, nearer, and picked me up at last. It was the devious-cruising Rachel, that in her retracing search after her missing children, only found another orphan. FINIS

This is the epilogue of the famous novel of Herman Melville, Moby Dick. At the end, Ishmael gives details of how he survived after he was tossed from the boat by clinging to the coffin buoy of Queegueg until finally being rescused. The single-line Biblical reference is from Job 1:17 as “And I only am escaped alone to tell thee,” which shows that he is the only survivor.

Example 3

As You Like It by William Shakespeare

But it is no more unhandsome than to see the lord
the prologue. If it be true that good wine needs
no bush, ’tis true that a good play needs no
epilogue; yet to good wine they do use good bushes,
and good plays prove the better by the help of good
epilogues. What a case am I in then, that am
neither a good epilogue nor cannot insinuate with
you in the behalf of a good play! I am not
furnished like a beggar, therefore to beg will not
become me: my way is to conjure you; and I’ll begin
with the women. I charge you, O women, for the love
you bear to men, to like as much of this play as
please you: and I charge you, O men, for the love
you bear to women–as I perceive by your simpering,
none of you hates them–that between you and the
women the play may please. If I were a woman I
would kiss as many of you as had beards that pleased
me, complexions that liked me and breaths that I
defied not: and, I am sure, as many as have good
beards or good faces or sweet breaths will, for my
kind offer, when I make curtsy, bid me farewell.

Until Shakespeare, it had been very unusual for a lady to deliver an epilogue. Shakespeare broke this literary custom and let his character Rosalind speak this epilogue in his play As You Like It. She clearly states that a good play needs no epilogue, but that she needs the same love from the audience that they extend to the man delivering an epilogue. She stated that she would expect the same compliments from the men as she delivered to them in this epilogue.

Example 4

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended—
That you have but slumbered here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearnèd luck
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long.
Else the Puck a liar call.
So good night unto you all.
Give me your hands if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.

These are the last lines of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare. Puck, a character in the play, speaks to the audience to advise them that they should look back on the play and see what they have watched and how it has reached at this point.

Test Your Knowledge on Epilogue

1. Which statement about epilogue is correct?

A. An epilogue is a poem, a speech, an event, a dirge or an elegy that comes at the beginning of a novel or drama to announce the death of the hero.
B. An epilogue is a poem, a speech, an event, a dirge or an elegy that comes at the end of a literary piece to announce its end.
C. An epilogue is a dramatic event that announces when a hero is to die or when he is trapped in some mishap.

[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #1″]B is correct, as an epilogue comes at the end of a literary piece.[/spoiler]

2. Which statement is correct?

A. An epilogue comes in the beginning, while a prologue comes in the end.
B. An epilogue and a prologue are the same things.
C. A prologue comes at the beginning, while an epilogue comes at the end.

[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #2″]C is the correct answer, as an epilogue comes at the end and prologue comes in the beginning of a literary piece.[/spoiler]

3. Which statement is correct about the Prologue to The Canterbury Tales is correct?

A. It was written by Geoffrey Chaucer in order to narrate the characters of his stories.
B. It was written by John Milton in the memory of his friend.
C. It was written by Chaucer as an appendage to his poems, but he did not write the poems.

[spoiler title=”Answer to Question #3″] A is the correct answer, as it is the first part of his The Canterbury Tales and tells us about the characters.[/spoiler]