Macbeth Monologue (Act 5, Scene 5) | StageMilk
Macbeth Monologue act 5 scene 5

Macbeth Monologue (Act 5, Scene 5)

Written by on | Monologues Unpacked Shakespeare

Macbeth’s final soliloquy in Act 5, Scene 5 can be broken down into two parts both literally, with the interjection from Seyton, and figuratively, as it’s almost as if they are two separate speeches from two separate characters. We have the unstoppable, bloodthirsty warrior King Macbeth, and the guilt-ridden, overcome and shattered Macbeth who has just been informed of the death of his wife and queen Lady Macbeth.

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In this scene, Macbeth is preparing to go to battle with Malcolm, the son of the late King Duncan who has been murdered earlier in the play by Macbeth. Macbeth believes that no one of woman born can kill him, and thus in his increasingly deteriorating mind, he is unstoppable. This is where we find him, pumping himself up, preparing as he always would for battle.

Macbeth:
I have almost forgot the taste of fears;
The time has been, my senses would have cool’d
To hear a night-shriek; and my fell of hair
Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir
As life were in’t: I have supp’d full with horrors;
Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts
Cannot once start me.

So in the first half of this soliloquy, Macbeth is speaking to how little he fears anymore. He says what would have scared him before is nothing compared to the horrors he’s seen now. From offstage we hear a cry. So naturally, Macbeth asks:

(Re-enter Seyton)

Wherefore was that cry?

Seyton:
The queen, my lord, is dead.

Macbeth:
She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
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.

Seyton leaves and Macbeth is left alone with his thoughts. Let’s explore exactly what’s going through the Mad King’s mind…

Thought & Language Breakdown

This speech, on the whole, is about life, death, and time. It begins as a speech about the vitality and power and in a weird way the excitement of life, even if the excitement is for something pretty grim.

But by the end of the speech, we find ourselves with Macbeth in a hole so deep it feels as if there is no way out. The only thing to do now is to muse on the futility and fury of the world, the unfairness of it all, and the cyclical, cruel nature of life and death itself.

Now being a speech about time one of the things that Shakespeare employs to its full power here is rhythm. He was pretty big on rhythm. Let’s take a look. Here’s how we’ll break it down:

Thought Change: /
Beat Change: Space
Feminine Ending: (F)

I have almost forgot the taste of fears; /
The time has been, my senses would have cool’d
To hear a night-shriek; / and my fell of hair
Would at a dismal treatise rouse and stir
As life were in’t: / I have supp’d full with horrors; /
Direness, familiar to my slaughterous thoughts
Cannot once start me. /

(Re-enter Seyton)

Wherefore was that cry? /

Seyton: The queen, my lord, is dead.

She should have died hereafter; / (F)
There would have been a time for such a word. /
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, (F)
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time, / (F)
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. / Out, out, brief candle! (F)
Life’s but a walking shadow, / a poor player (F)
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, / (F)
Signifying nothing.

Firstly it’s interesting to note there are no feminine endings in the first part of this speech (depending on how you feel about the word horrors). This is a pretty clear indication of how Macbeth is feeling. Alive, full of confidence and completely ready to take on whatever the world throws at him.

When we move into the second half of this soliloquy we get a feminine ending on almost every second line. When Shakspeare uses these, it’s usually a pretty good indication that the character isn’t doing so great. And I think to say that Macbeth, having just been informed of his wife’s death, isn’t doing so great. In all seriousness, we know not only from the way the verse is written how he’s feeling but by the language itself! He is heartbroken, defeated, and very suddenly reminded of the fact that any evil that he can conflict can also be laid upon him. He is in a state of total turmoil.

Modern Translation

Macbeth:
I have almost forgotten what it’s like to feel fear
In the past my blood would’ve ran cold to hear all these cries
And my hair would’ve stood on end as if it was alive to hear these stories of ghosts
But now I have feasted on real horror
There’s nothing so horrific you can show me now that will scare me

(Re-enter Seyton)

What was that cry?

Seyton: The queen is dead, my Lord.

She should have died later
There would have been a better time
Time goes on and on and on
It creeps at such a slow pace
Until the very end of time
And all the time that’s ever gone by
Has shown some fool to the grave
Each brief life blows out like a candlelight
Life, is nothing but an illusion, a trick
Like some poor actor who struts and boasts and worries away his brief time on the stage
Until it’s over, and they are never heard from again
It’s just a story, told by an idiot, a story full of noise and anger and distraction
Which in the end means nothing

 

Unfamiliar Words and Language

Cool’d (v.): Chill with terror, become cold with fear
Fell (n.): Skin, hide
Stir (v.): Move, rouse, excite
Treatise (n.): Story, Tale, Narrative
Dismal (adj.): Disastrous, calamitous, devastating
Supp’d (v.): Have supper
Direness (n.): Horror, terror, dread
Once (adv.): Ever, at any time
Start (v.): Startle, alarm, disturb
Hereafter (adv.): At some time in the future
Light (v.): Give light to, show the way to
Fret (v.): Distress oneself, worry, express discontent

Conclusion

Do you think Hamlet has a grim outlook on life? Well, I don’t know about you but this is one of the grimmest outlooks I think there is. Macbeth is probably one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters and probably most likely to end up on your English syllabus, and for good reason. Macbeth is all at once the hero and the villain of his own story. Lady Macbeth the same. Two power-hungry people, overwrought with grief who make some life-altering, immensely consequential decisions and end up flying not just too close to the sun, but straight into it.

It really does go to show the mastery that Shakespeare had for character development, particularly at the time. To have a character flip so sharply and so quickly like that, all with the use of such beautiful poetry is truly quite incredible. This is one of my personal favourites, and I hope you enjoy it and get as much out of it as I do.

About the Author

Jake Fryer-Hornsby

Jake Fryer-Hornsby is an actor, writer, and educator based in Sydney, and originally hailing from regional Western Australia. Jake graduated from WAAPA in 2017 and since then has gone on to work on and off stages around the country. You can find Jake taking shelter from the sun in any number of outdoor areas and/or on the hunt for his next caffeine fix.

About the Author

Jake Fryer-Hornsby

Jake Fryer-Hornsby is an actor, writer, and educator based in Sydney, and originally hailing from regional Western Australia. Jake graduated from WAAPA in 2017 and since then has gone on to work on and off stages around the country. You can find Jake taking shelter from the sun in any number of outdoor areas and/or on the hunt for his next caffeine fix.

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