Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Last year we discussed in a pair of essays works of art which we said created the experience they depicted. We saw some which pulled the viewer into the experience. In our discussions regular reader Tom suggested Macbeth as a candidate for this unique group of works. Having finally revisited the play I say: indeed!

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Macbeth: She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word:
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.
This is just an extraordinary passage, how Shakespeare manipulates time and weaves everyone who partakes in the play together.

There is no more time for tomorrow, for she is dead. There are no more tomorrows. Shakespeare draws us in to the day-to-day-to-day drudgery and then thrusts us, literally, to the end of time. How cruelly effective a way to recreate the feeling that life is simply such a damn repetition forever. So too with his use of the word "yesterdays," which encourages us to think not of the past as a monolith but of all the specific past days of our own, days he asks us to recall only to remind us they carry us to the same end. Shakespeare does not say "all candles will go out" or something similar but rather "Out, out, brief Candle," because the candle will go out. It has to, so it might as well. A "walking shadow." Something of illusory permanence, illusory agency.

Shakespeare weaves us all into this tragedy. First, "all our yesterdays." Then not just Macbeth but "the poor player," the actor himself. At last the teller of the tale, the author himself. (Though this could rightly include both the player and Macbeth.) Who would bother to tell such a futile tale?

No one escapes.


  1. I made a brilliant comment the other day but it didn't take! Something about how the Tomorrow speech lays bare Macbeth's soul because it's when he realizes that the blind ambition that has been driving him along has pushed him to a meaningless goal. Anyway, thanks for posting this--this McKellen staging looks really interesting.

  2. I'm so sorry! Thank you so much for taking the time to re-post it and I think you are quite right. Indeed what you say is a good example of how the scene is also dramatically appropriate, that it's not some aside of philosophizing.

    Yes it's a wonderful production. In fact I bought it some years ago on DVD on a lark and was duly rewarded for the risk. To say McKellen brings *every* line alive is probably overstatement, but the performance is extraordinary.

    I recall still first hearing how he said, "I have almost forgot the taste of fears" just before the above.

  3. There are so many lines in Macbeth that can be delivered with different nuances depending on how the director and actor have interpreted things. Some that come to mind:

    The times have been that when the brains were out the man would die.

    I am in blood stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o'er

    What is the correct emotion--disgust, sadness, a tinge of hysteria, false bravado? I love them all!

  4. Fine choices all and quite a question too! I imagine it can be both overwhelming and paralyzing (or liberating, I suppose) for an actor, to provide not just a suitable or legitimate one, but a delivery consistent with his approach to the whole play. That they are all equally plausible is simply remarkable. The possible shades, and the ability to suppress one here and bring out another there, must make playing Shakespeare quite thrilling. You truly, and legitimately, get to invest some of yourself in the part.

    And today we're so fortunate to have access to so many great performances. Right now I have Patrick Stewart's recent Macbeth waiting in the wings. Have you seen it?

  5. It occurs to me that we could do a comparison of different performances of the same speech, a project akin to our comparisons of the versions of the finale to Don Giovanni. Only I've not seen quite so many productions of Macbeth as of Don Giovanni. Any recommendations and advice would be most appreciated! Thanks Tom!

  6. Sorry to have been so quiet--very busy plus a new computer to attempt to house train! Looks like you've been busy too with lots of interesting posts I can't wait to look into.

    A Macbeth comparison would be a fun project. It should also include films. From Orson Wells's to Roman Polansky's film with Jon Finch. I still think the Polansky film is a gold standard for interpretation although he took a few liberties with the script.

    FYI for the past few years I've been working on a rescripting of Macbeth in the modern boardroom. Right now, he's a parter in an investment banking firm and instead of killing people he destroys their careers. I think it could really work but haven't made much progress. I elevator pitched it to a director here who was interested but his minions never got back to me so it's languishing. Your post has given me the motivation to get back to it!

  7. No problem Tom; always glad to have you here! My apologies also, but after a busy time I hope to get back into the blogging sphere commenting and not just reading. I'm also hoping to have many more Classics-related posts coming up.

    I'd not heard of Polansky's version but I will add it to my Netflix queue forthwith. In searching for it on Netflix it also occurred to me to consider discussing (in some capacity) Verdi's opera.

    Your Macbeth script sounds like a terrific idea. It is certainly a most impressive undertaking: wow! I very much hope to see it some day! Hound those minions!

  8. Also, reflecting on your script, it really would be fascinating to see what someone with Macbeth's drive would look like in our society.

    I think today we often write off violence that takes place in the past because we connect the past with brutality. Setting it today would really make us take note how far off the path he goes.

  9. Thanks! By all means have a look at the Polansky Macbeth and let me know what you think. It is disturbingly violent, but that doesn't detract from the way he has portrayed all of the main characters. Much more human than usual and he gives both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth wonderful moments of self-realization that are truly powerful. He deviates a little from the play but it doesn't detract--in fact the final fight scene with Macbeth and Macduff is more effective as a result.