Wednesday, February 1, 2012

a famous soliloquy

One of the most famous of Shakespeare's soliloquies comes from the tragedy Macbeth. This particular meditation, on the futility of life given the crushing inevitability of death, has come to mind lately thanks to a friend's having posted some YouTube clips of Ian McKellen's, Patrick Stewart's, and Nicol Williamson's respective performances of these lines.

The play is nearing its end, and Macbeth has just learned of the death of his wife:

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.

Macbeth Act 5, scene 5, 19–28

Is life meaningless? Is living a futile act, like a bad play in which we're all players who "strut and fret"? I occasionally ask my students this question: Why do anything? The question itself is vitally important, I think, because if you seriously believe that nothing is worth doing, then life becomes either a long wait for death or a preparation for suicide.

So I ask you: why do anything? What makes life worth living?


No comments: