(Poem #229) To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow
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.
From Macbeth, Act V, Scene v. Passages like this have led many critics to conclude that Shakespeare was a profound pessimist. I tend to disagree; why is it that these critics never cite his more lyrical passages as evidence of a gay and cheerful optimism? Nay; I think that the truth of the matter is this: Shakespeare's genius was such that he could plumb the depths and soar the heights of human character with equal ease; his plays are the most exquisite craftsmanship imaginable. (Needless to say, I do not subscribe to the view that Shakespeare's works necessarily mirrored events in his own life, no matter what the perpetrators of a recent Oscar-winning movie would have you believe :-)). Notice the many phrases from the above short speech which have passed into common speech - 'all our yesterdays', 'the way to dusty death', the 'brief candle' of life, a 'tale told by an idiot', 'full of sound and fury'... as I've mentioned many times before, Shakespeare was the greatest of them all when it came to enriching the language (for more on this theme, read my comments to Faust's great speech 'Was this the face that launched a thousand ships', Minstrels poem #75, at poem #75 ) [Context] These words are spoken by Macbeth on hearing of the death of Lady Macbeth. For all her flaws, he loved her deeply, and his immediate response is one of abject despair - once the most honoured of Duncan's generals, he is now a man despised and reviled, under siege in a rotting castle, his servants craven and fearful, his once-proud wife driven to madness and death by her own guilt. No wonder Macbeth sounds so sick of it all; he says a few lines later: "I [be]gin to be aweary of the sun And wish the estate o' the world were now undone." It's a measure of the man's courage, though, that he doesn't stop there; he continues: "Ring the alarum-bell! Blow, wind! come, wrack! At least we'll die with harness on our back." Defiant till the end, and proud in defeat. [Previous Poems] It's no surprise that we've run quite a bit of Shakespeare in the past; it's only to be expected of the greatest poet the English language has ever known . We've covered bits of The Tempest (Poem #16 and Poem #126), Julius Caesar (Poem #48), King Lear (Poem #200) and of course several sonnets (Poem #44, Poem #71 and Poem #219). You can read all these (and much more) at the Minstrels website: http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/ thomas.  Yes, I _like_ Shakespeare. However did you guess? :-)