This is one of the more famous speeches written by Shakespeare, and delivered his famous character, Macbeth, in the play of the same title. He says this to indicate that another day in his life would be just a futile and monotonous crawl towards the inescapable end, “To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day”(Act-V, Scene-V). In this soliloquy, Macbeth mourns his meaningless life, and the time after his wife’s death. He states that life is full of events and action, however absurd, and short, and completely meaningless at the end.
The meaning of this phrase is that life is meaningless, useless, and empty; and that every day just creeps by like every other day. After his wife dies, time seems to Macbeth an intolerable burden, and the future an overwhelming force that leads him to his destiny. This is directly opposite of the conventional and easy future he had fantasized about having with his wife before murdering King Duncan. After the death of Lady Macbeth, he feels his future is hopelessly tedious, and empty, while life looks ridiculously short.
The use of this phrase is common in literary language; however, you can use it in your everyday life. For instance, if a person’s loved one dies, then suddenly this tragedy would make his life empty and colorless without the presence of that loved one. He might feel that every day of his life useless and meaningless, like Macbeth. Similarly, a lover who parts with his beloved may also use this phrase to express the meaninglessness of his life without her.
Shakespeare has used this phrase in Macbeth‘s famous soliloquy in Act-V, Scene-V. The repetition of the words, “tomorrow, tomorrow,” expresses the growing madness of Macbeth as given below in the speech:
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,
(Macbeth, Act V, Scene V, Lines 19-28)
Macbeth hears the news of his wife’s death, and the audience sees the conclusion of his life, devoid of meaning and filled with struggles. He feels days on earth are very short like a “brief candle,” and an ignorant move towards a fruitless end. The life of a person is flimsy, similar to the life of an actor playing minor roles in comic and absurd dramas.
The theme of this line is time, fate, fortune, and war. When Macbeth hears that his wife is dead, he expresses his indifference to the occasion. For him, death is merely a last act of a bad play, and like an idiot’s story, full of melodrama and bombast, but meaningless. Killing King Duncan, taking his throne, and now viewing all this as past memories, seems to be the scene of a well-planned script. If human life is a bad play, then it is an illusion – just a shadow spread by a candle, which is perhaps the soul, and hence a prediction for the life of Macbeth is grim.
- Metaphor: Repetition of tomorrow is a metaphor for meaningless life.
- Repetition: The world tomorrow has been repeated three times to create powerful effects.