William Shakespeare

Literary Analysis Macbeths Tomorrow Soliloquy by William Shakespeare



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Macbeth's soliloquy in V, v implies that he views life as meaningless. Because this speech comes in Act V, we are tempted to think that it marks some kind of final conversion of Macbeth from hero to villain. Such a reading misses the mark somewhat. Instead, in this speech Macbeth comes to his deepest understanding and affirmation of a deterministic universe, and the insignificance of his part in it. In essence, what he is really saying is "Because we are controlled by someone/something beyond us, we are merely playing parts scripted for us before we were born. As a result, life is not what holds meaning; the script - the grand plan - hold meaning. My part, and everyone's, is too small and brief to affect, or change, that plan." This is an important realization for him because Macbeth's great mistake is his belief that he controls his own fate.

Right from the outset of the play we see how Macbeth believes in his own supremacy. In I, ii, the sergeant tells of Macbeth's defeat of Macdonwald:

For brave Macbeth - well he deserves that name -
*Disdaining fortune*, with his brandish'd steel,
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valour's minion carved out his passage
Till he faced the slave;
Which ne'er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
Till he unseam'd him from the nave to the chaps,
And fix'd his head upon our battlements.

Presumably, "disdaining fortune" means acting without regard for his own safety, but already we see the notion that Macbeth disregards what others believe is the established order of things.

This is reflected further in his own deliberations on whether he will carry out the murder. He has his doubts about violating both his subordinate position and his role as host:

. . . He's here in double trust;
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. (I, vii, 12-16)

However, Lady Macbeth manipulates Macbeth by calling his manhood into question and encourages him to act in an unnatural manner. Ironically, as we find out, this makes him less a man, not more:

When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And, to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. (i, vii, 55-57)

From this point forward, all that happens is in violation of the natural order: after Macbeth kills the king, the horses kick down their stalls and flee (then eat each other), a falcon is killed by a "mousing owl", day turns to night . . . all a reflection - and result - of Macbeth's "disdaining fortune." The witches themselves in I, i tell us that "Fair is foul and foul fair" as they can foretell Macbeth's actions.

So, the significance of the "tomorrow, and tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquy is not that it marks Macbeth's final conversion from vaunted, loyal hero to nihilistic villain, but rather that it marks the point where he has his greatest moment of insight into his own folly. This is consistent with other Aristotelian/Shakespearean tragic heroes, including Oedipus, Creon, Lear, and Othello. In order for Macbeth's death to be truly tragic, he must die not only a good man whose folly has led him to do evil but also a fallen man who realizes his folly and accepts the consequences of his actions. Just as Lear, in the end, realizes he is "a very fond, foolish old man," Macbeth realizes that he has been "a poor player," not the playwright, and that his attempts to be master of his own fate were merely "sound and fury / signifying nothing."

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