At the end of Act IV of William Shakespeare's play Macbeth, Malcolm says, "The night is long that never finds the day." What metaphorical sense do the terms "night" and "day" have? How does this phrasing foreshadow developments in the rest of the play?
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At the end of Act IV of William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, Malcolm says, “The night is long that never finds the day.” This comment is significant for a number of reasons, including the following:
- It helps reiterate the emphasis on light and darkness that runs throughout the play. Both literally and figuratively, Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s “darkest” plays – especially in the scenes leading up to and following the murder of Duncan. This phrase thus helps sustain that pattern of light vs. darkness that is so crucial to this work.
- The phrase implies, as do many other such references, that light in this play is associated with virtue and that darkness is associated with darkness. According to this image-pattern, Macbeth and Macbeth’s rule are associated with darkness and evil, while Malcolm and his struggle against Macbeth are associated with light and goodness.
- The phrase foreshadows the literal and figurative darkness of the final act.
- The phrase indicates Malcolm’s intention to defeat and topple Macbeth, thus in a sense forcing the appearance of “day” after the long “night” of Macbeth’s tyranny.
- It is an appropriate line on which to end an act, since it suggests that the new act may bring a new “day” – a new and significant development in the play’s plot.
- The phrase may help foreshadow Macbeth’s famous words later, in Act V:
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.
By this point in the play, even day and daytime have become associated with a kind of darkness by and for Macbeth.
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