I. What is an Epilogue?
An epilogue (pronounced ‘Eh-pih-log’) is an optional final chapter of a story, such as in a play or book, and which may serve a variety of purposes—concluding or bringing closure to events, wrapping up loose ends, reporting the eventual fates of characters after the main story, commenting on the events that have unfolded, and or setting up a sequel. It can appear as a speech (especially in a play), a series of scenes, or an essay by the narrator. The opposite of this is a prologue, which comes at the beginning of a play or book, and introduces the story.
II. Examples of an Epilogue
The Lord of the Rings books and films include a series of scenes at the end of the epic, which show the main characters returning home and / or leaving Middle Earth for further shores during the years immediately after the adventure is concluded. Tolkien also wrote an official ‘epilogue’ never published which summarizes the eventual fates of the characters many years later.
Some Shakespeare plays, such as A Midsummer Night’s Dream include a narrator character who introduces and concludes the play by commenting directly to the audience. This is Puck’s epilogue in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d 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 unearned 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. (V, i. 440-455)
III. Types of Epilogue
In a book, an epilogue can be used to reveal the fates of the characters. It can also be used to set up details for a sequel, or it can be used as a platform for the main character, narrator, or some other character, to speak freely on the events.
A montage of clips, sometimes with short explanations, using superimposed text, is one common style of epilogue in movies, particularly those based on true stories. It’s common to feature a block of text at the close of a documentary, informing the audience of any important information that follows the bulk of the action.
A dramatic epilogue is usually a short speech given by a narrator character, addressing the audience directly, at the end of a play.
IV. The Importance of the Epilogue
In both film and print, the epilogue often provides much needed closure for its audience, give the author a chance to direct the audience or reader towards particular interpretations of the story, or alternatively, teases the audience with a hint of a sequel. Epilogues are valuable as ways to accomplish these purposes without bringing them into the main story where they might seem anti-climactic, irrelevant, or slow down the dramatic movement of the piece. They can also be an opportunity to take a different perspective on the characters and their world, which might seem incongruous within the main story.
V. Examples of Epilogues in Literature
It’s common to use the epilogue to both summarize previous events and as a window into the future. In works with large casts of characters or several subplots, the writer will often use the epilogue as a tool to clarify what could otherwise get confusing.
Here, in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, we see a large cast summarized and placed in the future for us. Many subplots are sewn up at once:
Excerpts from the final chapter of Pride and Prejudice:
HAPPY for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters . . .
Mr. Bennet missed his second daughter exceedingly . . .
Mr. Bingley and Jane remained at Netherfield only a twelvemonth . . .
Kitty, to her very material advantage, spent the chief of her time with her two elder sisters. . . .
Mary was the only daughter who remained at home . . . it was suspected by her father that she submitted to the change without much reluctance.
As for Wickham and Lydia, their characters suffered no revolution from the marriage of her sisters . . . They were always moving from place to place in quest of a cheap situation, and always spending more than they ought. His affection for her soon sunk into indifference; hers lasted a little longer . . .
Miss Bingley was very deeply mortified by Darcy’s marriage . . .
Pemberley was now Georgiana’s home; and the attachment of the sisters was exactly what Darcy had hoped to see. They were able to love each other even as well as they intended . . .
Lady Catherine was extremely indignant on the marriage of her nephew . . .
With the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate terms. Darcy, as well as Elizabeth, really loved them; and they were both ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the persons who, by bringing her into Derbyshire, had been the means of uniting them.
Before the days of the superimposed paragraph on film, explaining the futures of each character, epilogues were made popular by the playwrights of the Greek and Elizabethan stage. An actor would step forward to thank the audience for attending, or to give the viewers some sense of closure. In comedy, this would be used to assure audiences of the long, happy lives ahead of the heroes, and in tragedy, it would summarize the downfall and causes thereof, most famously in Romeo and Juliet:
A glooming peace this morning with it brings;
The sun for sorrow will not show his head.
Go hence to have more talk of these sad things,
Some shall be pardoned, and some punished,
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet, and her Romeo.
VI. Epilogue in Pop Culture
Some television shows have had epilogues in the form of the narrator commenting on events to the audience, such as writer Rod Serling used to do at the end of of every Twilight Zone episode.
In other television shows, there is often an unofficial epilogue, always coming after the last commercial break, where one of the main characters reflects on the events of the story, such as in Star Trek when the captain of the starship Enterprise (whether Kirk or Picard) makes a final ‘captain’s log’ recording.
VII. Related Terms
This is a message added to the end of a written statement. It’s usually an afterthought, something that the writer forgot to mention in the main piece of writing. It is standardly introduced by the abbreviation P.S. in personal letters, however longer fiction and non-fiction can also have postscripts. It literally means “written after.”
This is written at the end of a paper (or spoken work, such as a speech) in which the major points are summarized and a conclusion, or result, assumed or stated.
This can be the last section of a song, or radio or television show. Sometimes it will be used similarly to the classic epilogue. For example, the popular 90’s show Kenan and Kel would often end with a staged address to the audience which would summarize the events of the show and then hint humorously at the future.
Kenan: “Kel, get a bucket of glue and meet me at the church. Let’s go on to the church.”
Kel: “Kenan! No, no! You’re gonna get people all sticky. Kenan, thou shalt not glue! K-Kenan? Aw, here it goes!”
VIII. In Conclusion
Epilogues are everywhere from old Greek plays to the latest horror flick, and you can use them too. Any time the story has created loose ends or unanswered questions, or in order to suggest an interpretation of the story to your audience, or to foreshadow the future.