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To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow -- William Shakespeare

(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.
-- William Shakespeare
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 )


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
    "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
[1]. 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:


[1] Yes, I _like_ Shakespeare. However did you guess? :-)

31 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

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so whats the significance of this quote? what does it show or prove?

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We seek originality in new presentations of Shakespeare (I suppose) in order to confirm our belief that, somehow, there is more flexibility built into his plays than into the work of most other dramatists. So when we see Lady Macbeth take a chocolate cake out of a refrigerator to serve it to Duncan, or see Macbeth blow a kiss at Ross after scolding him at dinner, we allow ourselves both a smile and a period of reflection.

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