This soliloquy appears in Act-V, Scene-V of the play “Macbeth.” He delivers this speech upon hearing the death of his wife ‘Lady Macbeth’. However, he laments about the meaningless life and the time after his wife’s death as a futile and monotonous crawl towards the inescapable end. For Macbeth, though life is full of events and activities, it is absurd, short, and completely meaningless at the end.
Explore Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
In this famous speech of Macbeth, he discusses the futility of life. However one tries or aspires, all, in the end, lead to the same end. Macbeth sees life as a “shadow” that is meaningless and void. Every “tomorrow” just creeps by at a slow pace without any differences to other days. After his wife’s death, time seems to become an intolerable burden, and the future an overwhelming force that leads him to his destiny. Macbeth’s perspective on life and has totally changed here from the future and life he has envisioned with his wife at the beginning of the play. Lady Macbeth used to be his driving force. Her recent madness, followed by her death and Macbeth’s realization of his upcoming doom makes him indifferent to her death and life in general.
“Death” and “the futility of life” are the major themes touched by Shakespeare in this famous soliloquy of his. Macbeth delivers this renowned address after hearing the news of his wife’s death. He looks indifferent to the news and he calls death as the last act of a bad play. Life seems to be devoid of meaning similar to that of an idiot’s story. Whatever one dreams of, death is the inevitable part and the end of the play called life. According to him, all one does refer to his act of killing Duncan to become the King becomes meaningless as life is short, a bad story of an idiot and a shadow produced by the candle.
Form and Structure
This poetic speech appears in the Act V-Scene V of the famous Shakespearean Tragedy “Macbeth” is written in the form of a Soliloquy. Within this short speech of 11 lines, Shakespeare has brought forth the philosophy of life. It is a symbolic poem about the futility of life as Macbeth’s life itself symbolizes the outcome of over-ambition. The different images used to connect one with the other giving a beautiful garland like structure. At the same time, it also binds the theme of life and death within this short poetic speech.
Tone and Style
Tone adds to the emotion of the speaker. Here, Macbeth, the speaker uses a more resigned tone that expresses his indifference and befuddled mindset. In the line that precedes or begins the soliloquy express Macbeth’s tone of indifference towards his beloved wife’s death for the word, ‘death’ has no meaning now. Macbeth’s soliloquy is less dense and cryptic than Lady Macbeth’s. The repetition used at the beginning of the speech indicates his death that is to be followed. This style of writing reveals the certainty of his death followed by his wife as a punishment for killing Duncan.
Shakespeare has used a number of images in this soliloquy to illustrate his themes. Each image gives birth to another to produce a beautiful overall picture of life. Macbeth is presented as a wretched man, who is waiting for his impending doom. By then he also hears the news of his wife’s death. Dejected, Macbeth delivers this philosophy on life. He starts with life’s futility and of time. “To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow” produces the image of time, of future that creeps in slowly like the rhythm used in the play.
The life which is short is presented in the image of the candle that produces light for a brief time. Moreover, life is compared to a “walking shadow” produced by the light of the candle, which goes away when the candle is extinguished. Similarly, people die when time or death comes. The walking shadow on the other hand is the image of the man who is acting on the stage. He is gone when he finishes the role assigned to him. Likewise, people will die when the role in this play called life is played of. Moreover, the pictures life as a bad play written by a fool and acted by the one who struts and frets for there is no meaning to the play. The image of the “bad play,” “sound and fury,” “shadow produced by candle” heightens the speaker’s emotions elaborates on the themes despite its shortness.
Metaphors and Symbolism
This Soliloquy by Shakespeare stands as a testimony to the futility and the shortness of life. No one has a life that lasts forever and ever. Life must come to an end like a play despite whether one likes it or not. Shakespeare uses the metaphors “tomorrow,” “brief candle,” “walking shadow,” “a bad play” are the metaphors used to symbolize the meaningless and short life. Repetition of the metaphor “tomorrow” creates a powerful impact, to symbolize the future.
Lines 1 to 5
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time.
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
In the lines, 1 to 5 of this speech is delivered as a response to the news of Lady Macbeth’s death. Macbeth seems indifferent to the news of her death. As a result of all the things that have happened before in his life and his impending doom made him think life as a meaningless one. He feels life to creep in at a slow pace day after day in a monotonous way, until the end, “the last syllable of recorded time.”And, he further thinks the past, the “yesterdays” as “lighted fools” that lead to the “dusty death”. The repetition of the word “tomorrow” expresses the growing madness of Macbeth
Lines 5 to 8
. . . Out, out, brief candle.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. . .
In lines 5 to 8 of this soliloquy, Macbeth compares life to a brief candle. He wants to put out this short life. Further, he calls life to be “walking shadow” an actor who enacts the characters on stage. This line once again iterates Shakespeare’s view: “all the world’s a stage and people are mere actors”. Especially, the actor here is “a poor player” who “struts and frets his hour upon the stage”. When the time comes for the play to end, he ceases from the stage and he will not be heard again.
Lines 8 to 11
. . . It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
In these concluding lines of the speech, Macbeth compares life to a story told by an idiot. The story is full of noise and wrath. Still in the end t has no meaning at all. These lines allude to Macbeth’s past where he and his wife devised a plot to kill Duncan to secure the throne. Now, all of their acts have become meaningless. Comparing the tale that signifies nothing to his life, Macbeth realizes all the bloodshed have come to signify nothing.
Intensive use of imagery and symbols in his protagonist’s speech, especially, in the tragic heroes is the noted style of Shakespeare. His sonnets and poems live to propagate his expertise in using the poetic form not only in drama but also in poetry. Some of his famous sonnets are: Let me not to the Marriage of True Minds, that time of year thou mayst in me behold, ‘When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes’ etc.
Readers can also read the following poems: ‘When Tomorrow Starts Without Me‘ by David M. Romano, ‘A Lecture upon the Shadow’ by John Donne, ‘At Home’ by Christina Rossetti.