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Macbeth's Tomorrow Soliloquy: Summary and Analysis

Jule Romans is a retired English teacher and college instructor. She has taught Shakespeare and advanced literature for over 25 years.

This soliloquy takes place just after Macbeth learns of his wife's death. He is grieving. He is also facing an attack on his castle, along with retribution for all his heinous deeds from earlier in the play.

Macbeth must face not only enemies outside himself, but also within himself. He has lost all honor, integrity, and hope. This soliloquy expresses the loss of hope and ultimate despair of Macbeth's inner and outer world.

In this soliloquy, Macbeth is saying three things:

  • Life is slow, filled with small, unimportant details and endlessly repetitive days.
  • Everything that people do is pointless: even our legacies are useless because everyone ultimately dies, and people are fools.
  • Life is a false reflection. It may seem intense and powerful, but it makes no sense and means absolutely nothing in the end.

Macbeth's Final Solilquy

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.

The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act V, Scene V

Analysis of Macbeth's Tomorrow Soliloquy

This is Macbeth's last soliloquy in the play. This is the final opportunity for Macbeth to speak his inner thoughts aloud. In some sense, it is an opportunity for him to repent. But he does not. Macbeth spends most of the time in this soliloquy expressing hopelessness.

The Consequence of Macbeth's Greed and Ambition

The hopelessness is well deserved. Macbeth has murdered, lied, manipulated, and ruled with tyranny. This soliloquy demonstrates that his loss of human conscience has dire consequences.

Because of Macbeth's horrible actions, his mind is filled with pain and a sense of deep despair. Shakespeare uses this opportunity to demonstrate exactly what can happen when a person loses their morals in the pursuit of greed and ambition.

Macbeth's Inner Conflict

Some readers may think that in this soliloquy, Macbeth demonstrates a bit of remorse, or at least regret. It is clear that Macbeth is aware that he is in a terrible position.He is deeply aware of the mental and emotional consequences of his actions. It's not entirely clear that he has remorse for his actions, or for what he has done.

What Does Macbeth Mean When He Says: "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow"?

The first three lines of this soliloquy contain the famous repetition of the word tomorrow:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,

What does Macbeth mean when he says the words tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow?

When Macbeth says these three words, he means that there is no hope.

Facing a Hopeless Existence

Macbeth has just learned that his wife has died. He is holed up in his castle, expecting an attack from his enemies at any moment. He has killed his king, his best friend, and the innocent wife and child of his rival. Although he did not wield the weapons himself in all these cases, Macbeth is very very guilty of these deaths and others. So he sits alone in a room, depressed, afraid, and reaping the consequences of his unbridled greed for power.

Endless Repetition of Days to Come

As he sits there, Macbeth contemplates a dark future. He is understandably depressed. Even though he has brought this on himself, Macbeth is miserable.

He breathes the words "tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" in repetition, just as anyone would who was looking at a long series of awful and depressing days. All he can see is more and more misery, piling up day after day: repetitive and endless.

In short, Macbeth's life has become a drudge of disappointment, and he sees no way forward.

The Days Crawl by Without Importance

After repeating the word "tomorrow," Macbeth says that each day slowly crawls by, one after another. That is what he means when he says "creeps in this petty pace from day to day."

Each day will drag on inexorably, with nothing important happening, forever. Not just for the duration of Macbeth's life, but "to the last syllable of recorded time." This implies that Macbeth is not only talking about the slow, depressing pace of his own life. He is expressing the sense that all human life is slow and meaningless.

What Is the Meaning of "Out, Out, Brief Candle"?

These two lines can be taken together to understand the meaning of the phrase. Macbeth says:

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

When he says this, he means that all the days that we have lived have served no purpose.

Lighting Fools the Way to Dusty Death

Even what we leave behind, or our light, only points the way for other foolish humans to march toward the ultimate end of death. In this, Macbeth is decrying the pointlessness of life. We live, we leave some knowledge behind, and other people may follow that light. Those people will die and turn to dust as well. So all our work only serves to show them toward an ultimately meaningless end.

Macbeth exclaims immediately, then:

Out, out brief candle!

He uses the metaphor of the candle, in relation to the light mentioned in the lines before.

Extinguish the Candle of Life and Do it Quickly

Macbeth essentially says: get it over with, then. Extinguish the candle. Life is short, the light lasts only briefly, so just end it now.

It's not immediately clear whether he means one should end one's own life immediately and that he is foreshadowing his own death. The statement is vague, and could also be interpreted to mean that life itself is so brief and pointless that it might as well be snuffed out. Either way, the meaning is clear: The end is coming fast.

What Does Macbeth Mean When He Says: "Life's But a Walking Shadow"?

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more:

When Macbeth says "Life's but a walking shadow" he means that life is empty and not real. In the same way that a shadow is not a real thing of substance, Macbeth now views life to be nothing more than a wavering, pale imitation of true existence.

A walking shadow moves, but has no power. A walking shadow reflects reality but does not inhabit it. A walking shadow moves and appears to have life, but it does not.

This is how Macbeth sees life. Life is not only pointless, repetitive, and brief, it is also without real substance.

A Poor Player

When Macbeth says "A poor player" he is referring to a bad actor. He is saying that life is no more than an empt act played out on stage, and not very well, either. This is an interesting contrast to one of Shakespeare's other famous speeches that begins "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." That particular speech come from the play As You Like It. It only bears mentioning here, as a stark contrast. Macbeth sees the world as a stage, but his view of life is completely different. Macbeth thinks the play of life is badly acted, with lots of chaos and a bitter end.

Struts and Frets . . . and Then Is Heard No More

When Macbeth uses the metaphor of a badly acted play, he also likens the player to a loud, grumbling actor who exits and is never seen again. It's very telling that Macbeth insists that the player is heard no more. No matter how much noise or drama the "poor player" creates, his end is final. There is no meaning left behind. He is simply gone, never to be heard again.

Some scholars believe that there are implications here about Macbeth's lack of heirs to carry on his line. Macbeth know that he may be soon about to die, and when he does, his line will die with him, since he has no children. Throughout the play, this has been a concern for Macbeth, as he has given in to greed, committed sins, and ultimately gained the throne without gaining anyone to leave it to.

What Does Macbeth Mean When He Says That the Tale of Life Is Full of Sound and Fury?

...it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Macbeth has used the metaphor of an actor onstage. He changes that metaphor slightly here to be one of a storyteller.

A Tale Told by an Idiot

Macbeth is saying that life is a story, but one that is told by a ridiculously stupid person. The story makes no sense, even though it is loud, intense, and potentially angry. Imagine a crazy person spewing a huge number of words, with loud voice, large gestures, and great emotion. If we saw such a person, we would notice the "sound and fury" but we would not be able to understand the meaning.

Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

This is what Macbeth means when he says that life itself is full of sound and fury. There is noise and intensity, but in the end, it has no real meaning that we can understand. It is, as he says "signifying" absolutely nothing.

To Macbeth, at this point, life is a bad actor who makes a lot of noise, an idiotic storyteller who explodes with meaningless emotion. Life, in the end, for Macbeth, is a lot of crazy drama with no significance. The ultimate consequence of Macbeth's ambition is pure, empty, meaninglessness.

Is "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow" a Soliloquy?

Yes. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow is a full soliloquy. It is not a speech, a monologue, or an aside.

Soliloquy Versus Monologue or Speech

A soliloquy is a longer speech uttered by a character play that illustrates their inner conflict. No one else on stage is able to hear the soliloquy. Only the audience hears the character's inner thoughts spoken aloud.

In a soliloquy, it is as if the character is merely thinking aloud, or allowing a window into what is going on inside their mind. Even if other characters are present on stage, they generally fade into the background and appear not to exist while the soliloquy is spoken.

A solilquy is a moment of solitude where a character speaks their thoughts aloud, revealing inner conflict, feelings, or insights. In contrast, a monologue is when a character delivers a speech that can be heard by the other characters, and does not necessarily reveal their deepest inner struggles.

The Difference Between a Soliloquy and an Aside

As a contrast, and aside is a shorter utterance by a character that is spoken directly to the audience. In and aside, the character steps out of the action for a moment and directly speaks to the audience, revealing thoughts, intentions, or feelings that the other characters cannot hear. Asides are generally short, an often simply reveal thoughts without elaborating on inner conflict or struggle.

For example, Macbeth does utter an aside much later in the play, Just before he heads toward his final sword fight, Macbeth says:

"Blow winds come wrack at least we'll die with harness on our back."

This line is short, and sometimes delivered directly to the audience. It lets the audience know what Macbeth thinks, but it does not go into detail about his inner conflict. It is a short statement of his immediate feelings.

In contrast, the tomorrow soliloquy is much longer.

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.

— Macbeth, Act V, Scene v

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Jule Romans

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