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Macbeth Soliloquy Glossary: If it were done when 'tis done... (1.7.1-29)

bank and shoal of time (6)

Critics are divided on the meaning of this passage. A few critics argue that it is a classroom metaphor, with "bank" actually "bench" and "shoal" meaning "school." This theory developed because the folio version of the play spells "shoal" "schoole", and one of the meanings of "bank" in Shakespeare's day was "bench." "Time is thus seen as the period of judgement, testing, or 'crisis', and as a school; corresponding to these meanings we have later in the speech, 'judgment here' and 'teach bloody instructions'" (Muir 38). However, with the knowledge that "schoole" was a common seventeenth-century spelling of "shoal", it is more likely that the line corresponds to the previous metaphor suggested by "trammel" and "catch", and that "bank" means "sand-bank" and "shoal" means "shallow" (an elevated sandbar which is smooth and on which there is a depth of water eleven meters or less). Therefore, our life on earth is compared to a shoal with its shallow water, and our afterlife is the deep and wide ocean.

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How to cite this article:

Mabillard, Amanda. Macbeth Soliloquy Glossary. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (date when you accessed the information) < >.


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