In Act 5, Scene 5 of Macbeth, what does Macbeth mean by saying Lady Macbeth "should have died hereafter" (5.5.17).In Act 5, Scene 5 of Macbeth, what does Macbeth mean by saying Lady Macbeth "should...

In Act 5, Scene 5 of Macbeth, what does Macbeth mean by saying Lady Macbeth "should have died hereafter" (5.5.17).

In Act 5, Scene 5 of Macbeth, what does Macbeth mean by saying Lady Macbeth "should have died hereafter" (5.5.17).

Expert Answers
Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I suppose this is open to interpretation, but in my opinion, the truth of this line revolves around the word "should," which in Shakespeare's time meant "inevitably would."  Therefore, immediately after hearing of Lady Macbeth's death, Macbeth would have said, "She [inevitably would] have died hereafter" (5.5.17).  This is truth, for humans are not immortal.  (However, it also can be used as a rationalization for murder.)  This goes along very nicely with Macbeth's famous soliloquy that follows beginning with "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" (5.5.19).  (Even I had to memorize that soliloquy in high school.)  To put that soliloquy into two words, Macbeth is basically saying:  "Everybody dies."  Period. 

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that Macbeth means that he wishes Lady Macbeth would not have died until after he was able to see her again (hereafter). The remainder of the famous "sound and fury" speech is, as belletoffi points out, a regretful acknowledgment that we are as dust in the wind.

kc4u | Student

A victim of somnambulism, Lady Macbeth committed suicide(Malcolm's final speech supplies the fact), that is to say, she chose the moment of her death. Macbeth's comment in act5 sc.5 that 'she should have died hereafter' suggests a wrong choice of the moment of death on the part of Lady Macbeth. Fighting the last battle of his life & almost deserted by all, Macbeth was in a state of alienation and despair; perhaps he feels absolutely let down by his only companion's self-chosen end. The words that follow assume the dimension of a pervading commentary on the tragic illusions of life, and the whole speech, 'To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow.......' corroborates Macbeth's profound pessimism consequent to Lady Macbeth's death.

gregolam | Student

On possible interpretation is that he simply does not care anymore, about life in general but also about her. He is tired of living, exhausted from all he has done and the horror with which he now regards life. When he says she should have died later, I get the feeling he cares so little about it all at this point, and he has become so estranged with her, that he wishes she would have died later when there was time for it, because at the moment he can't be bothered with all that is going on. It is almost with annoyance that he wishes she couldn't just wait so he would have one less thing to worry about.

belletoffi | Student


Questions on Macbeth

Question one:

In act 5, Scene 5, what does Macbeth mean by his speech, “She should have died hereafter…… signifying nothing”? (line 17)

Personally I think that this line means that Lady Macbeth would have died at one point, be it either now or later. Every human is mortal and Macbeth is trying to comfort himself in saying that if she did not die now, she would have later. I also think that this line shows that Macbeth is mourning her death and wishes that she survived the battle.

“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.”

In this section of the speech, Macbeth is showing that life itself is meaningless and that he is tired of doing everything to become king of Scotland. He finds that after mass murders and committing regicide, Macbeth finds that the only things his life as king has given him are mistrust and paranoia. Macbeth finally understands that no matter what he does, like any human being he is mortal and that the life he has built up for himself will come to an end.

“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.”

Macbeth personifies life as to an actor on stage. An actor spends his life worrying about what will happen on stage, and once his performance is over, is never heard of again. Like this actor, Macbeth has spent his life worrying about how long he will have as king, but in this speech he realizes that once he is no longer king, he will be forgotten. Macbeth now sees that his impact on earth is infact not one to be proud of.

All in all this speech shows that Macbeth and everything he loves and desires is coming to an end, he thinks that life is completely pointless now that he has nothing to love and sees that his rise in power has infact only been the beginning of his downfall.