Macbeth's Soliloquy: She should have died hereafter... (5.5.17-28).
In this final soliloquy we uncover the ultimate tragedy of Macbeth. "It is the tragedy of the twilight and the setting-in of thick darkness upon a human soul" (Dowden 66). Macbeth's heinous acts throughout the play have resulted in his last, horrible conclusion about life: it is utterly meaningless. Our days on this earth serve no purpose other than to thrust us toward "dusty death." Life is a seemingly endless and depressing succession of bleak days creeping along at a "petty pace." Our time on this earth is so unsubstantial that it can only be compared to a shadow; so unreal that it can only be compared to a stage on which frets a pitiful actor. When the play is over his character disappears into nothingness, and has left nothing significant behind. For more on the metaphors in this final soliloquy and in the play in general, please see my article, Biblical Imagery in Macbeth.
Macbeth's feelings toward Lady Macbeth in this soliloquy are not as clear as the overlying theme. As seen in the annotations, there are four, and possibly several more, opinions regarding Macbeth's initial reaction when he hears that his wife is dead. Those who take the first line to mean "she would have died at sometime, either now or later" usually argue that it illustrates Macbeth's callous lack of concern for Lady Macbeth. However, it seems more likely that the line is a combination of meanings (1) and (4) cited in the annotations:
[Macbeth] has said (in Scene III of this act) that the battle will cheer him ever after or disseat him now. Up to this time he had expected to win the battle; he was ready to laugh the siege to scorn when interrupted by the cry of women. And may not his visionary thought have pictured the victory as restoring him to the man he once was? He pauses on the word "hereafter" (there are two missing feet in the meter), and realizes that the time will never come now. Sadly he reflects that if it could have been, if he could have gone back, then there would have been time to consider that word, death, and to mourn properly. But now, now that there is to be no victory, and no going back, now that she is gone the tomorrows creep on with their insignificant slow pace to the last syllable of recorded time. (Coles 269-79)
Questions for Review
1. How has Macbeth changed since his last soliloquy?
2. Why does Macbeth find fault with Lady Macbeth's dying?
3. How does this soliloquy show that the true tragedy of Macbeth lies not in the violent deaths of the characters, but in the world-view of Macbeth?
4. How do you feel about Macbeth at this point in the drama? Do you pity him? Do you admire him?
Back to Soliloquy Annotations
How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Commentary for Macbeth's Soliloquy: She should have died hereafter. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2009. < http://shakespeare-online.com/plays/macbeth/soliloquies/diedhereafter.html >.
Coles, Blanche. Shakespeare Studies: Macbeth. New York: AMS Press, 1969.
Dowden, Edward. As Quoted in Notes on Macbeth by Montagu Griffin, 1898.
Shakespeare's Workmanship: Crafting a Sympathetic Macbeth
Origin of the Weird Sisters
Temptation, Sin, Retribution: Lecture Notes on Macbeth
Alchemy and Astrology in Shakespeare's Day
Characteristics of Elizabethan Tragedy
Why Shakespeare is so Important
Shakespeare's Influence on Other Writers
Daily Life in Shakespeare's London
Life in Stratford (structures and guilds)
Life in Stratford (trades, laws, furniture, hygiene)
Stratford School Days: What Did Shakespeare Read?
Games in Shakespeare's England [A-L]
Games in Shakespeare's England [M-Z]
An Elizabethan Christmas
Clothing in Elizabethan England
Queen Elizabeth: Shakespeare's Patron
King James I of England: Shakespeare's Patron
The Earl of Southampton: Shakespeare's Patron
Going to a Play in Elizabethan London
Ben Jonson and the Decline of the Drama
Publishing in Elizabethan England
Religion in Shakespeare's England
Entertainment in Elizabethan England
London's First Public Playhouse
Shakespeare Hits the Big Time
Notes on Macbeth: Out, out, brief candle!
"There is a magic in the expression "brief candle" which I have never known any one to deny. What is the secret of it? A candle is a commonplace enough object; in itself it is not a poetical thing; it is something useful, something with regard to which the idea of use and ownership naturally arises; it stands low down, as an inanimate thing, on the scale of images which culminates in man. Yet, as Shakespeare has used it, it is a central image in a consummate bit of poetry. What has he done to give it such distinctive worth? He has personalised. Here lies the main secret of the worth of this expression." Arthur Fairchild. Read on...
More to Explore
Macbeth: The Complete Play with Annotations and Commentary
The Metre of Macbeth: Blank Verse and Rhymed Lines
Macbeth Character Introduction
Metaphors in Macbeth (Biblical)
Figures of Speech in Macbeth
The Three Apparitions in Macbeth
Supernatural Solicitings in Shakespeare
Shakespeare on Omens
Macbeth, Duncan and Shakespeare's Changes
Contemporary References to King James I in Macbeth
The Royal Patent that Changed Shakespeare's Life
Soliloquy Analysis: If it were done when 'tis done (1.7.1-29)
Soliloquy Analysis: Is this a dagger (2.1.33-61)
Soliloquy Analysis: To be thus is nothing (3.1.47-71)
Soliloquy Analysis: She should have died hereafter (5.5.17-28)
Explanatory Notes for Lady Macbeth's Soliloquy (1.5)
The Psychoanalysis of Lady Macbeth (Sleepwalking Scene)
Is Lady Macbeth's Swoon Real?
Explanatory Notes for the Witches' Chants (4.1)
Macbeth Plot Summary (Acts 1 and 2)
Macbeth Plot Summary (Acts 3, 4 and 5)
How to Stage a Production of Macbeth (Scene Suggestions)
A Comparison of Macbeth and Hamlet
The Effect of Lady Macbeth's Death on Macbeth
The Curse of Macbeth
On the Knocking at the Gate in Macbeth
Macbeth Q & A
Essay Topics on Macbeth
Aesthetic Examination Questions on Macbeth
What is Tragic Irony?
Stages of Plot Development in Macbeth
Time Analysis of the Action in Macbeth
Macbeth Study Quiz (with detailed answers)
Quotations from Macbeth (Full)
Top 10 Quotations from Macbeth