Read Macbeth’s Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow soliloquy below with modern English translation & analysis

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.


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38 replies
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  1. Garp
    Garp says:

    Amazing! So many people professing to understand the meaning and then immediately bothering to write out long replies on the subject. Fools + sound + fury.

  2. Dr J Mehrishi, PhD (Cantab), FRCPath
    Dr J Mehrishi, PhD (Cantab), FRCPath says:

    Not to be pompous please!
    Hearing John Gielgud speaking (almost sort of singing in his beautiful inimitable way) and Ian McKellen recently on YouTube is quite a delight.
    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.

    but then. dann nicht meh Vernommen wird” and ” Voller Klang und wut
    Das nichts bedeutet” have different punch from

    “full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing” and quite a variation in

    C’est tune conte qu’un ganache parle
    Brutant et furieux
    Qui signife rien’

    NOT QUITE how/what one feels hearing-
    “full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing”

    leaving the hearer/watcher of the play- really enthralled though wrung out?

    This is not dissimilar to Richard Burton- on the stage in New York, unexpectedly – for the benefit of the German parents of the girl, Elizabeth Taylor wanted to adopt, and wishing Richard to make a good impression- suddenly opening with

    Sein oder nicht sein daß ist die Frage-…..

    I wish that I had the whole speech by Burton.

    • J. Gholdston
      J. Gholdston says:

      Translations generally miss the mark wide in attempts to match meter and phrasing. New Year’s Eve, 1974 I took some coworkers to see Gone With the Wind in Frankfurt am Main. I had built up the significance of Rhett cursing at Scarlett when she asked him what was to become of her. In English, the powerful retort was, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” In German it became, ” Ehrlich gesagt, es ist mir Egal.” Honestly, I don’t care. Something, as they say, was lost in translation.

  3. Caleb Howarth
    Caleb Howarth says:

    Practicing the monologue in preparation for a voicemail message for an old friend, I found myself uncertain of the use of the word “fools”. This despite my education and training experiences in Shakespeare which would I think be fairly characterized as considerable, if not extensive. Accordingly, I jumped online and found this interesting discussion. First, based on what I can with reasonable comfort assert to possess fidelity to original intentions, the “translation” is, I’m sincerely sorry to state, awful. Not only painfully inartful, it more importantly omits thematic elements critical to understanding its meaning.

    Nevertheless, I throw in, for whatever for it, my support for the effort in principle, so long as it is understood to be, and employed as, a stepping stone to personal ownership of the original text. And here I must take issue with an opinion shared in an earlier post. This passage is not possessed of whatever meaning a reader might ascribe to or derive from it. I would only be guessing to say, but shall write anyway, that such an assertion is understandable as an extension of an otherwise praiseworthy definition of “art.” Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and it is perfectly legitimate for many such words to coalesce around differing, even conflicting ideas of impression and interpretation of the same painting or sculpture. But it is unduly generous to allow that literally any opinion as to the meaning of this or that piece of art enjoys an equality with any other opinion. Defend, with vigor, literally any experience of art – any emotional wellspring engendered, any reaction expressed, and you are on very firm ground. Defending as equal all opinions as to a works’ meaning, however, consigns foremost the written word to and undeserved and indefensible relativism corrosively and unnaturally hastening a juttered evolution of the language.
    If it appeals to think that I overstate my case, please consider one word I myself used in the previous paragraph. The word “literally” has recently suffered the addition of a second meaning, and this in refererence sources even including the OED. In consequence, it is no longer certain whether the word employed (to use the OED’s example) in the sentence “I have received literally thousands of letters…” means the writer has received, at minimum, 2000 individual pieces of mail, or, as the new meaning would have it, has received a large volume of mail, where “large” is relative and left to the reader’s calculus. This is a deplorable consequence, and while we may feel a tendancy to dismiss this position as just a geezerly warning of slippery slopes, such unaddressed erosions spread with perfect equality an inarticulacy already undermining one of society’s critical foundations: mutual understanding.

  4. Tom
    Tom says:

    I have been saying this soliloquy over and over for many weeks and I could pretty much understand the meaning, but at least this “modern” person made an effort to say what he or she thought it meant. The only thing is, if someone wrote a “modern” soliloquy that was written like the interpretation, no one would even read it twice, but Shakespeare’s has been going through people’s mouths for four centurys, and enjoying the experience.

  5. Dan McDonald
    Dan McDonald says:

    ‘T’ is a pompous jackanape. Shakespeare didn’t only write
    for people as clever as “T’ believes himself to be. He wrote for
    all of us, including the illiterates in the galleries. The glory of
    Shakespeare is that you see something new the eighth time
    you read it, and even more the ninth time.

    • Dr J Mehrishi, PhD (Cantab), FRCPath
      Dr J Mehrishi, PhD (Cantab), FRCPath says:

      Do view the video clips, if you have not already, of John Gielgud, Mckellan and others- it is almost impossible to get the same feeling/’tingle quotient’/zing form a certain phrase in one language translated into another as I have stated above. One could think of many others.

      Re- (lighted- guided-) ‘fools’- probably means exactly that or unperceptive? lack of ‘common sense’?

      see below for an appeal to all- prompts me to remind the less than suitable comments (I ma sure, hope an exception) : These are interesting supposed to be civilised discussions- There is no need to be offensive- ‘x’ calling Tom…….. I don’t even wsh to repeat…

  6. Claire
    Claire says:

    Yes, maybe the translation is telling the same thing just in other words.
    Yes, maybe the original version is clear enough.
    Yes, maybe it is senseless.
    But there are still people really grateful for this “translation”, for example me: a young exchange student with English as a second language, getting thrown into the cold water with reading these (actually awesome) plays, that are still hard to understand.
    Thank you!

  7. David Hinds
    David Hinds says:

    I think that it’s a great site hated the bickering but loved to see that so many people are still nuts about my favourite speech/play it’s one that I have loved since the first time it was read to me the reader was good and delivered it well it had been lodged in side my head ever since though I hadn’t actually heard it since I was in school in my English lit class many moons ago I thought of it tonight as an appropriate reply to a comment I had earlyer to reply to and so I googled it up from it’s dusty grave and reread it for the first time in so many years then I read it again and again and again out load (thin walls I think I heard my neighbours saying he thinks that I am Mad for talking to myself?) using deeper and lesser expression upon the words for different effects which pleased me and found it difficult to stop(perhaps I am mad) it’s just so nice you guy’s all seem to be a little more privileged than that in having heard it more regularly. I like the life is a stage version because that is how I find it and in growing up my Sunday school classes used to teach as much in fact I believe that most religions teach that life is a test leading to the impression that we are in an arena being watched by a hidden crowd of beings living life upon a stage in a science laboratory of some highly evolved Alien species this concept makes me think of the way the Greek Gods played with Jason in the movie Jason and the argonauts one of my favorite movies of old. I Enjoyed reading your comments and the comments of many who perhaps have been more highly educated than myself and I gracefully bow to the many different investigative concepts and avenues used to revue this text it has been intresting and a pleasure thank you all and good morning.

  8. Chuck Grove
    Chuck Grove says:

    It has been over fifty years since I read Macbeth, and that famous soliloquy remains with me unchanged. I guess I have to say, it is a powerful statement as lt was written!

  9. Robert Gertz
    Robert Gertz says:

    This passage is clear and heartbreakingly beautifully despite being uttered by a human monster. Still, no reason to despise those who want to see it broken down if it helps them understand it better. The key thing is getting people to read the original work and honestly, it’s worth doing. There’s a great Signet edition of the works that I recommend. You can order it cheap from Amazon. It comes with fine annotations and essays on each play.

  10. Esme
    Esme says:

    To address the “dumbing down of America” comment; You DO realize that it now takes someone with higher education to understand middle English, right? I hope most of you realized that languages change quite fast, often only needing 200-300 years for it to sound completely different. Try reading Old English! That definitely needs a translation for the language evolved so much that it’s a completely new one! When I read middle English, I feel as of I’m reading French. And I say that because I’m familiar with some words, some I’ve never seen and others are spelled exactly like English but have completely different meanings.

    You know, when you translate a language, you’re saying the same thing with different words, right Maddie?

    • H
      H says:

      Come now, all of you – your comments are more foul than fair! While I agree that the ‘translation’ is weak, the thing with this passage (for me at least) is it’s range of meaning. Shakespeare, I think, was a man who enjoyed tantalising his audiences with the wonder and mystery of life. He was simply ahead of his time. Many modern writers know the power of the reader’s/audience’s humanity – that is, their hope, faith, anger, vulnerability, ambition etc – and use it to connect them to character. In short, Shakespeare was a Modernist, four hundred years before Modernism.

    • Nate
      Nate says:

      Shakespeare IS Modern English not Middle English. It is Elizabethan English, which is considered early modern. Middle English is much more difficult to decipher than Shakespeare.

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