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.
–Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 19-28: Macbeth to himself
So, like all of humanity in the time of despair Macbeth too frets about life, giving into a classic pessimistic view of life. He thinks aloud to himself, how the days stretched out. The days, each one the same as the one before, and they would continue to stretch out one in front of the other, tediously, until the end of history, until the end of time. To him thus, it seems that every day we have lived has been like a fool’s life finally ending. Life is like that, in fact to Macbeth completely wrapped up in his desolation, each day is more like a candle, lighted, ultimately showing him the way to his death- bed. Why does he bother with this burdensome life, he wonders, whether it would be better to blow out the flickering candle before the end. Macbeth in his weakest moment throws upon life some more pessimistic images. One he sees it as no more than a walking shadow, two, he sees it as a poor actor. An actor who goes through all the emotions in one hour on the stage and then bows out. It seems truly life is like a three act tragedy – but unfortunately written to be told by idiot, full of noise and passion, and finally, meaningless.
The excruciating tone of pessimism of this quote from Macbeth has always attracted me for the wrong reasons of course. For reasons unknown to me, I have always felt this is by far the most “on the edge” moment in Macbeth’s life. This is the precipice he does not survive. Recently, I heard the unfortunate news about the demise of a friend – truth be told a Classmate – I cannot pretend to be a ‘friend’. The act of taking one’s own life, the reaching to the edge of the precipice and the nothingness thereafter brought back some bitter regrets.
Are we so alone in life that we can only say things to ourselves? Are we so away from a helping hand, a sympathetic shoulder? Are we in such despair and desolation that we are willing to let go of life?
And what does it say about us, who surround these individuals? Aren’t we the most lousy bunch of dumb witnesses?