The Daily Suck
I recently started taking a freshman english college course at Franciscan University, and my teacher made our class start keeping a commonplace book. For those of you who don’t know, a commonplace book is a personal journal that you fill with any writings that speak to you; whether they’re from books, poetry, movies, or even your own writing. Pretty cool right? Totally up my alley. I started filling up my commonplace book right away with some of my favorite writings, but then I realized the very first one I wrote down is totally goth.
Now I’m not goth, but I appreciate depth in writing and it just so happens that lots of deep writing is…well, dark and grim. I.e., possibly my favorite Shakespeare tragedy, Macbeth. Here’s what I wrote down:
“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,
Yeah. Pretty dark, huh? If you need to go watch cat videos now until you feel better, I won’t blame you. So why did I pick this horribly depressing and hopeless quotation to jot down as my very first entry? Well it’s not because I’m goth, or because I identify with Macbeth’s perspective on life. The answer is simple. I wrote it down because it’s beautiful.
Macbeth gives this famous monologue late in the play after he hears of the death of his wife, Lady Macbeth. The audience would think that he would react a little more strongly to this news (although Lady Macbeth is one seriously messed-up chick), but that’s where we’re wrong. Macbeth has already sacrificed most of his humanity to get to where he is at this point, starting with the murder of the old king and the usurping of his throne, which only leads Macbeth to order the murder of anyone who threatens his new position: even his closest friend and advisor. At this time in the play, Macbeth is getting ready to defend his kingdom from the vengeance-driven Macduff, who is prophesied to the be the only person who can kill Macbeth and put an end to his reign. Macbeth has stripped away all of his humanity and capacity for love in his quest for power and now it is the only thing he has left, and that’s why he not only doesn’t care about Lady Macbeth’s death, he is no longer able to care about anyone.
If you’re familiar with the play, then you know what atrocities Macbeth has committed up to this point. Nobody except the craziest, most diabolical villians could go walking around with a smile on their face anymore. Which leads me to a question that goes along with the quotation: is Macbeth sane? Yes, he’s paranoid, power-hungry, and commits some undeniably evil acts. Also, he sees ghosts and floating daggers, but the play does have supernatural elements to it. Case in point: the three weird sisters, witches who dabble in black magic, and their goddess, Hecate. Now all of this may seem off the point of the whole commonplace entry thing, but context is everything with this one, and key to appreciating the monologue. Just bear with me for a little bit longer!
I’m not really arguing either way in the debate of Macbeth’s sanity, but it’s important to keep in mind while reading the quote. I guess what I’m saying is that a sane person would not love their life if they were Macbeth. And although many of Macbeth’s actions in the play seem to stem from madness, this speech almost sounds like a moment of fleeting clarity where he looks back on it all and sees it for what it is: empty, and in the end, meaningless.
For a man who’s existence is entirely devoid of love and happiness, life really is a walking shadow, a forgettable actor who “struts and frets his hour upon the stage”, and then fades from memory, unremembered and unimportant. The only promise tomorrow holds is exactly what it is: another tomorrow that only leads to the next one and the next one until death, which Macbeth does not even seem to see as an escape. We can make all the sound and fury in life that we want, but in the corrupt king’s eyes that’s all they are: hollow noise and meaningless actions. Which leads me to my favorite part of the quote. The entire monologue is incredibly deep with beautiful metaphors and imagery, but old Billy Shakes (as my poetry teacher says) ends it pretty bluntly. After all the walking shadows, brief candles, and poor players, he ends with “Signifying nothing”. And that’s his genius. By ending this gorgeous speech in such a blunt and brutal way, he parallels the entire essence of the speech. Macbeth gives his sound, fury, and eloquence throughout the entire monologue, but when he comes to his main point – that life is meaningless – he conveys exactly that in just two words. He plays up the drama up until the “signifying” (life signifies what, Macbeth? What?) and then brings it crashing down with the simple “nothing”. Just nothing. Everything he’s said, everything he’s done amounts to just — nothing. It’s a deflated, hollow word to end with, but it hits us like a sledgehammer and it’s utter brilliance.
Alright, if you’ve read this entire post then I applaud you and also apologize profusely for getting a little loquacious there. Shakespeare just gets to me. It goes hand in hand with the whole sucking at being a teenage girl thing. But hopefully I’ve explained why this monologue from Macbeth got the very first spot in my commonplace book. Not because I’m goth. Not because I think that Macbeth’s got the right idea about life. It’s because it blends heartbreaking beauty, tragedy, and the brutal ugliness of what evil can do to someone in the same breath. As another famous Macbeth quote states, “Fair is foul and foul is fair”, and this monologue balances both of those qualities brilliantly. Considering myself an avid reader and a writer, Macbeth’s speech never fails to take my breath away in its power, and that’s why it’s not only in my book, but the first entry.
I’m going to have a tough time explaining all of this to my english teacher if she’s concerned for my sanity once she reads the quote in my book. Did I mention I also have Poe in there as well? Yikes. Maybe I’ll try to litter in some My LIttle Pony: Friendship Is Magic in there, just to be safe. Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this depressing post about a depressing play! It’s one of my favorites, and maybe after reading this you’ll add in a Macbeth quote or two in your own commonplace book. Just make sure to start out with the quote “Don’t worry, be happy” on your first page.