Macbeth Act V, Scene V: Words for a fallen world.
Sometimes students realise that their language needs a boost when they analyse a text. They worry about too much repetition and over-reliance on certain words. So let’s revisit one of the most important moments in Macbeth and see how we might boost our confidence in analysis through the introduction of a more extensive vocabulary.
Remember that when we search more rigorously for a precise word in an analysis, the more convincing our writing becomes.
So here’s Macbeth in Act V Scene V reacting to the news of his wife’s death. It is his final soliloquy and aside. Take note, that by this stage of the play, Macbeth is deservedly isolated and friendless and is about to face a battle which will culminate in his death. And what I find fascinating is that the reaction of Macbeth still has the ability to move his audience despite our knowledge of his degraded cruelty and serial betrayals. Macbeth still has the capacity to surprise us when he reflects upon his experience and relates his personal experience to the universal. It is as if the final ‘butcher’ is temporarily lost in the thoughtful recognition of life’s hollow absurdity. The speech represents a return to the more thoughtful, introspective Macbeth of earlier on the play. The furtive, cunning secrecy has been vanquished by real feeling. Shakespeare brilliantly reveals Macbeth’s residual, emotional honesty when faced by the bloody results of his cruel, empty ambition.
So here’s the extract:
‘She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word,
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day…’
- Macbeth has just heard about his wife’s death and acknowledges he has no time to mourn her at all. This seems to point to a moral justice in the world as their mutual evil, has destroyed their passionate love.
- Macbeth reflects on the illusion of human autonomy and power immediately after he has been told of his wife’s death. He bitterly realises his own powerlessness and the futility of his ambitious actions.
- Macbeth’s reaction to the death of his wife is to despair of life’s meaning. We feel his isolation is deserved but reluctantly acknowledge the truth of Macbeth’s all too human self-realisation or epiphany.
- Macbeth explores the illusion of self-determination immediately after he has heard about Lady Macbeth’s death. The likely suicide of his wife triggers this final soliloquy which seems bleak and despairing. Both of the protagonist have consigned themselves to hell through their own cruelty and greed.
- Macbeth is reflecting upon the news of his wife’s death and seems exhausted by the failures of his life and ambition. In this speech, Macbeth seems to have returned to his own humanity. Ironically, it is much too late to save him from an ignoble, brutal death.
- Macbeth seems aware of the emptiness of his ambition in this final soliloquy. Ironically, the audience senses the truth of his reflections, and despite our revulsion towards his degraded actions.. we almost sympathise with him.
Introspection/introspective contrast to Macbeth the warrior and man of action. Returns to the more complex characterization of earlier in the play
Preoccupied/preoccupation with/ investment in personal interest ambition/ obsessed with/ aware that obsession led to disaster or abject failure of ambition.
Examine/explore/gives representation to/ considers/evaluates/ debates/ vocalises/ reconsiders
Finite nature of life/ ephemeral quality/ephemerality/ life’s transience
Emptiness of ambition/ illusion/ delusion of power
Autonomy/ agency/power/ self-determination/ arrogance of certainty
Hollowness/ despair/sense of nothingness/ nullity
Intelligence/ incisive understanding of his predicament/ irony that self-awareness so late in the play.
Universal appreciation of his predicament.
Acute, painfully imaginative awareness of his situation.
The proximity of likely death makes the speech powerful?
Voice of Macbeth is expressive and knowing.
Cunning yields to honesty. Secrecy is overwhelmed by grief?
Aside gives us the gift of Macbeth’s mind . Here more admirable for its bleak, accepting, vehement knowledge? Or is this epiphany bitter and highly charged with the irony of emptiness?
Irony. Macbeth’s self- knowledge reveals a better man? Too late to escape the fatal repercussions of his murderous actions
Irony. Macbeth’s self-realisation too late. His detachment arises out his despair.
Time no longer offers any possibility of change or hope
Only intimacy left is with listening audience. Irony. We must judge him, yet again?
Macbeth’s bleak evaluation of life after notification of Lady Macbeth’s death, suggests he sees no future without her. Their mutual evil has created this horrible situation where mourning is no longer possible and all intimacy is dead. He recognises the emptiness of ‘tomorrow’ as suggested by the hopelessness of the repetition, where every ‘tomorrow’ stretches out before him, offering nothing but further banality, further despair. The general tone of hollowness is communicated by Macbeth’s awareness of the impossibility of mourning his wife as there is no ‘ time for such a word.’ Macbeth’s actions have deprived him of all intimacy. And of all respect. The bitter resignation of his words like ‘petty pace’ communicate Macbeth’s awareness that ambition has destroyed everything he valued in his life. Ambition has rendered his life banal, which is ironic when he wanted to be King. Time now mocks Macbeth with its indifference to all his strivings. It will go on without him. Time is even animated, as it ‘creeps’ reminding Macbeth of its connivance and indifference. Time is even made grotesque, like the witches perhaps? Macbeth realises that he not in charge of his destiny at all: quite to the contrary in fact, for he is just the witches’ puppet or pawn. Ironically and even tragically, Macbeth is now weary of the world he has ruined lives just to gain..
The Woman in Black
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