Wednesday, October 25, 2006

From Macbeth (V,v,19)

The poem of the week comes a day early as I'm off to Puerto Rico tomorrow. Most of you probably know this famous passage from Macbeth. If not, I'm excited for you--it's really stunning. If you've only ever found Shakespeare annoying and difficult to follow, you're not alone, but I think it's worth your while to try reading him again. Because even the most cranky and pretentious academics agree that Shakespeare was as brilliant as your high school teacher said he was. Reading Shakespeare is unquestionably difficult, initially, but if you read slowly and work to untangle the linguistic knots, it's worth your while. And, of course, it gets easier as you read more. To give you an idea of the richness and suggestiveness of Shakespeare's language, I swear you can find at least a half dozen actual movie titles buried in Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy. William Faulkner pulled a major theme (and his title) for The Sound and the Fury from the passage below.


While popular opinion (mine too) has it that Hamlet is Shakespeare's greatest play, Literature scholars tend to prefer King Lear. Scholars of the Theater hold up Macbeth as, at least structurally, the perfect play.

Here's the context: Macbeth is on the castle walls, under siege by his enemies, and has just learned that his wife has killed herself. He knows that his murderous attempt to win power has collapsed. He is surprisingly stoic and accepting, resigned to the barren futility of life.




From Macbeth (V,v,19)

"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. 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."



William Shakespeare 1564-1616

12 Comments:

Blogger You said...

Here's some great insight from POW member Emily Shooltz, a scholar at the Manhattan Theater Club.

I think the two lines that precede this section are interesting, although they are nearly always omitted when it’s quoted:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.

To my mind this is what leads him (the playwright and the character) into this amazing and sad moment of existential philosophy. It is almost as though the thought is “there would have been a time for such a word tomorrow,” i.e. in the future, but contemplating the future only leads him to recognize the futility of life—that we all must die, that actions are meaningless, that all the tomorrows in the world would not have saved them from a bitter end. It leads seamlessly into “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.”

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