[Source] The chief problem is that some B.C. sockeye species are in trouble. Each year four-year-old sockeye swim up the Fraser River in a spectacular bid to return to the freshwater streams where they hatched four years earlier. There they spawn and die, their bloated corpses testifying to nature’s almost Shakespearean cruelty. The number of returning individuals offers vital clues about the species’ health and helps determine how much fishing will be allowed—and is therefore subject to much scrutiny and speculation ....

I submit that the counterintuitive, inanely wasteful spawn of salmon is ironic, because they suffer and die while trying to return to their origins, which is cruel to them. Yet how is this cruelty Shakespearean?


I guess it's self-evident. There is a lot of death and cruelty in Shakespeare's works.

In Romeo and Juliet, for instance, both key characters die in the end, despite great efforts to achieve their goals, just as these sockeye salmon species. They only barely manage to consummate their marriage. Unlike the salmon, they don't even have the opportunity to bear children. That's cruel. That's Shakespearean cruelty to you.

In short, Shakespearean cruelty (in this particular context) is when someone undertakes heroic efforts and even achieves something notable just to be hit by misfortunes and losses.

These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder
Which, as they kiss, consume

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