eMacbeth's Soliloquy: She should have died hereafter... (5.5.17-28). Commentary
In this final soliloquy we uncover the ultimate tragedy of Macbeth. "It is the tragedy of the twilight and the setting-in of thick darkness upon a human soul" (Dowden 66). Macbeth's heinous acts throughout the play have resulted in his last, horrible conclusion about life: it is utterly meaningless. Our days on this earth serve no purpose other than to thrust us toward "dusty death." Life is a seemingly endless and depressing succession of bleak days creeping along at a "petty pace." Our time on this earth is so unsubstantial that it can only be compared to a shadow; so unreal that it can only be compared to a stage on which frets a pitiful actor. When the play is over his character disappears into nothingness, and has left nothing significant behind. Macbeth's feelings toward Lady Macbeth in this soliloquy are not as clear as the overlying theme. As seen in the annotations, there are four, and possibly several more, opinions regarding Macbeth's initial reaction when he hears that his wife is dead. Those who take the first line to mean "she would have died at sometime, either now or later" usually argue that it illustrates Macbeth's callous lack of concern for Lady Macbeth. However, it seems more likely that the line is a combination of meanings (1) and (4) cited in the annotations: [Macbeth] has said (in Scene III of this act) that the battle will cheer him ever after or disseat him now. Up to this time he had expected to win the battle; he was ready to laugh the siege to scorn when interrupted by the cry of women. And may not his visionary thought have pictured the victory as restoring him to the man he once was? He pauses on the word "hereafter" (there are two missing feet in the meter), and realizes that the time will never come now. Sadly he reflects that if it could have been, if he could have gone back, then there would have been time to consider that word, death, and to mourn properly. But now, now that there is to be no victory, and no going back, now that she is gone the tomorrows creep on with their insignificant slow pace to the last syllable of recorded time. (Coles 269-79) In Macbeth's final soliloquy, the audience sees his final conclusion about life; it is devoid of any meaning, full of contrived struggles. Days on this earth are short, a "brief candle," and an ignorant march toward a fruitless demise, "lighted fools. . . to dusty death." A person's life is so insubstantial that it is comparable to an actor that fills minor roles in an absurd play. There a struggle for substance in life, the actor who "struts and frets his hour," or a playwright who tells a "a tale full of sound and fury," but it is contrived, senseless, and will thus fade into obscurity, a tale "Told by an Idiot. . . Signifying nothing" in which a "walking shadow" performs "And then is heard no more. This soliloquy and existential reflection of Macbeth seems somewhat incongruous with his murderous path except that it indicates his deep love for and attactment to Lady Macbeth. Indeed, it is this love for his wife which gives Macbeth pause. For, as he feels his life propelled by his "vaulting ambition," he now realizes the nothingness of his life without his wife and anyone to give it meaning. In its expression, Macbeth's soliloquy contains some literary devices: * Personification
As he ponders the meaning, or lack of meaning, in life, Macbeth repeats the word tomorrow in order to suggest the passage of time. He personifies this word of time, too, suggesting that it "Creeps." Likewise, there is personification with "yesterdays" who have lighted the way to death for fools, and with "Life" that is described as being like an actor who "struts" and "frets." * Metaphor
"Life" is also part of a metaphor, an unstated comparison that evokes similarities between one's life and "a walking shadow and "a poor player" on a stage. The final lines are also...
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