Read Macbeth’s ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’ soliloquy with a modern English translation & analysis of the meaning, and why this has become such a well known soliloquy.

Spoken by Macbeth, Macbeth Act 5 Scene 5

There would have been a time for such a word.
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.

‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’ soliloquy translation:

How the days stretched out – each one the same as the one before, and they would continue to do so, tediously, until the end of history. And every day we have lived has been the last day of some other fool’s life, each day a dot of candle-light showing him the way to his death-bed. Blow the short candle out: life was no more than a walking shadow – a poor actor – who goes through all the emotions in one hour on the stage and then bows out. It was a story told by an idiot, full of noise and passion, but meaningless.

Why is ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow’ such a famous soliloquy?

The passage is full of meaning and there is so much one can say about it. But we can look at it only for the way Shakespeare uses imagery. If we do that we are reminded that any idea of the Bard’s not being the greatest user of the English language ever would be absurd.

At this moment Macbeth’s suffering is intense and becoming unbearable. His victim’s ghost is haunting him, his guilt is torturing him, his enemies are closing in on him, his wife has gone mad and now he’s just heard that she’s committed suicide. We would expect a response with language that expresses a wild and desperate state of mind. That’s what it seems like, with his mind jumping from one idea to the next without any logic. He mentions time, then candles, acting and the theatre, shadows, and a tale told by an idiot.

There is no intellectual logic in the development of the passage but the poetical, imaginative logic makes the piece very tight, and one of the most remarkable achievements one could find in English poetry.

Then there is a mention of light, but it’s only daylight to guide us to the darkness of death. The light has come naturally from the images of time, particularly the word ‘day’. In death that light is extinguished, like a candle, which is the next image, and a candle’s light is brief, like life, compared with the long period of the night to come. Candles cast shadows, which gives rise to the next image, life as a walking shadow.

A walking shadow is another term for an actor on the stage, so the shadow thrown by the candle creates the image of the actor on the stage. The actor plays out the dramas and anguish of a human being, strutting and fretting, but that only lasts for the performance, and then he goes home and you don’t hear from him again. His passion has been shallow, just an act, and for a very short time. All that is a representation of life: it’s full of empty passion that is just the raving of an idiot: it doesn’t last and it’s meaningless.

It’s a short piece of verse that sums up, not only a weariness of life but a whole philosophy of life and its futility. Each image gives birth to a new one and the beautiful logic develops in that way. And it captures perfectly the state of mind of the speaker. There’s no wonder it’s one of the most famous passages in English poetry.

king macbeth stands under candles

Macbeth delivers his tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow soliloquy

See other Macbeth soliloquies >>

Read Macbeth in modern English >>

See more Shakespeare soliloquies >>

  • Lena says:

    In in Junior high and this really helped me out a lot.

  • Adam says:

    Thank you for your contribution. I’d phrase the last bit more like this: “life ‘is’ just an illusion, a bad actor that nervously goes thorugh his/her lines and fades into the background, it’s a story, told by an idiot, full of emotion, but utterly meaningless.”

    Only substantive change to your text is using the present tense “is”, as McB is talking about the concept (the meaning iof life, etc.) and not a noun (Lady McB’s life).

  • G. Thomas says:

    this is surely the moment when Macbeth realises that the prophesies on which, encouraged by his wife, he has gambled everything were false. When he hears that his wife is dead he mutters “she should have died hereafter” (he could have added “if the story was true”) – but she didn’t and so what is the truth he is having to face up to? he pauses as the realisation sinks in and then starts his depressed speech in which he recognises that he is about to lose …the time before him will drag out interminably and it is all a waste of time …he is just another fool who got it all wrong

    this is the great turning point in the play and goes to the heart of what it was all about

  • Scooter Crone says:

    The idiot is the dramatist watching His play on the stage from high above. We are all just players for His amusement. Most bow to Him. Some give Him the finger.

  • Rob Willett says:

    Could it be about the condition of the restless human mind always looking for the next thing. The mind that runs the life, in the drivers seat all the time and like a hamster on a wheel never getting anywhere?
    Always under the illusion that certain things and conditions need to be met before you find what you want. Whilst all the time joy and contentment are within.