Commentary on Macbeth soliloquy
“To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
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. 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: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. “
Soliloquy is a speech made by a character alone on the stage or thinks she/he is alone.
Through soliloquy, the audience gains an honest and direct experience of that character’s mind. In this particular soliloquy, Macbeth expresses overwhelming despair. This soliloquy encompasses the entire experience of Macbeth’s kingship, short to the entire play. Imagery, time, dictions and repetition each have its constituency in shaping this important soliloquy.
The passage reveals to the reader the despair and desolation of Macbeth just before the deciding battle with Macduff and Malcolm.
Just before the soliloquy, Macbeth has been informed that Lady Macbeth is dead. The sudden departure of Lady Macbeth marks the lost of Macbeth’s only love and trusty as well as the ties to the world. By now, Macbeth is all alone, as most of the previously mentioned Thanes have taken side with Malcolm. After this soliloquy, Macbeth is informed that the Birnam wood is moving towards Dunsinae. This unexpected action by the English army confirms the witches’ prophecies and Macbeth’s fear. Macbeth realizes that perhaps the witches tricked him and reveals his sense of regret as he wishes to “undone the world.” Nevertheless, at the end of the scene Macbeth chooses to die as a solider.
This soliloquy takes a sharp and abrupt change in atmosphere from the falsely over-confidence to despair and futility. In the previous dialogues, Macbeths mocks the incoming siege as “a siege to scorn.” Lady Macbeth’s sharp death cry fails even to disturb Macbeth in any way. Macbeth’s failure to respond to Lady Macbeth’s cry shows to the reader that Macbeth’s sense and emotion have become numb, as Macbeth says himself he no longer feels the “taste of fear.” The most probable cause that triggered the sudden outpour of grief and desolation by Macbeth can be attributed to the sudden departure of Lady Macbeth, as Macbeth finds himself all alone in this world.
The vocabularies used in this soliloquy express deep depression and desperation: “creeps”, “to the last,” “fools,” and “dusty death.” Words like “shadow,” “no more,” “nothing” conveys the pointless Macbeth feels his career as a king and perhaps even his entire existence. Much of the dictions used in this soliloquy are extremely depressing. Every single line is reeked with Macbeth’s depression as Macbeth said life is but a pointless tale told by an “idiot”, referring to himself.
Imagery is crucial to all Shakespearean plays. This extraction of Macbeth is no exception. Shakespearean imagery mainly uses comparison, which includes metaphor and simile. The purpose of imagery is to create vivid pictures that deepen the dramatic effects as well as give the audience the pleasure to imagine the particulars of the play. Darkness is an important imagery in Macbeth. As most of the scenes happen at night. But when taking into account that the murder of Duncan also happens at night, darkness seems to be the archetype of evil. However, in this particular passage, darkness represented by “life is but a walking shadow,” coupled with “brief candle” imply the briefness and insignificance of Macbeth’s life. Macbeth dismisses the light and desires for darkness in “out out, brief candle!” The image of a dead king’s dusty body presents the audience a vivid visual of how hopeless and abandoned Macbeth feels.
Time is also important to this passage. Time as a whole in the play seems to play against Macbeth and this point is illustrated in this passage as well. In this extract, time and repetition goes hand in hand to create an emotional force to show how time goes against Macbeth. “Tomorrow, tomorrow and tomorrow,” followed by “day to day,” to the “last syllable of recorded time.”
Literarily, these featureless repetitions of time to the audience are boring. To Macbeth, these featureless repetitions are but a mere advance from a moment to another, utterly pointless and even torturous; to the audience it shows the extremities of Macbeth’s despair and desolation. By literal repetition of time, Shakespeare deepens the dramatic effect of the sense of despair and futility. Macbeth’s thought moves from tomorrow to yesterday to everything he has done is merely laying the passage to his “dusty death.” By the end of this passage, it can be said Macbeth actually welcomes and embraces death in order to liberate himself from this multitude of disastrous feelings.
In the previous acts, the reader sees the struggles between Macbeth’s dark “desires” and conscience. However, in this extract the reader sees almost a liner development towards despair and futility.
A big part of Macbeth’s tragedy is that Macbeth himself realizes and recognizes the emptiness of his life. In the latter half of the soliloquy, Macbeth juxtaposes his life to a “brief candle” and a poor actor on stage that “frets” and “struts” his “brief” hours upon the stage until he is heard “no more.” Clearly, Macbeth bears sardonic remarks about his brief career as the king and power. Macbeth’s sarcastic remarks go to a point where he loses self-respect and self-identity for a moment when he calls himself an “idiot” and his life “signifying nothing.”
Many critics, including Mr. Taylor feel that this is the play’s most important soliloquy and certainly one of the most famous soliloquy from all Shakespeare’s plays. Although the purpose of every line in this extract is to create a sense of futility and despair, nevertheless, the extract’s strength lies with the successful accomplishment of drawing sympathy from the audience by engaging them in a direct link with Macbeth as he expresses the futility of human endeavors, thus, making the Shakespearean play, Macbeth a successful tragedy.
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