Macbeth says, "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." What do you suppose he means by that? I'm doing an three page essay over that quote, depicting each and...

Macbeth says, "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." What do you suppose he means by that?

I'm doing an three page essay over that quote, depicting each and every line, but I don't know what that line means.

Quick Answer

This famous quote about life expresses Macbeth's nihilism—a sense of the meaninglessness of life. Macbeth says this after hearing that his wife has died. It is also the moments right before his climactic battle with Macduff. In this tumultuous moment, Macbeth is feeling that life is absurd and that nothing has any purpose or meaning. Everything he did to become king will soon be erased by his story coming to an end.


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Harrison Murray, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In context, the line reads like this:

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.

At this point in the plot, Macbeth is losing his sanity and has just lost his wife. Everything seems to be quickly spinning out of control and toward his doom. Life looks ominous and meaningless after all his seemingly futile efforts to come out on top via the schemes he has played.

Life, then, is a tale. A story. Each person is the protagonist of their own life story, choosing the direction the plot will take. Macbeth notes that this protagonist writing the tale is an "idiot." This refers to the way people tend to move through life, strutting upon the stage they are given, not realizing that their time is like the brief flame of a candle. It is all so fleeting, and individuals spend their brief "hour" of life full of sound and fury. For what? Against whom? In the end, none of the fury that consumes so much of life amounts to anything.

Macbeth realizes that he has wasted so much of his brief life (and, by extension, all of us do as well) and that it has all proven meaningless in the end.

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The Shakespeare quotes section on eNotes has an explanation of this quotation that can be found at the link below:

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ms-mcgregor eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Macbeth utters these lines after being told of his wife's death. To truly understand them, you must look at them in context. The full thought of which this lines is a part is:

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.(30) 

Earlier in this soliloquy, Macbeth has also said:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this trivial pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time.
And all our yesterdays have lighted
The way to dusty death for fools. Out, out, brief candle!

In other words, life is meaningless. It is lasts for a brief time and is full of "sound and fury", but in the end, nothing lasts. Life, a "walking shadow", something inconsequential, really doesn't amount to anything. Macbeth is realizing that all his machinations to become king and to keep the throne have come to nothing. He "made a lot of noise" and created quite a story, fought quite a battle, but in the end, nothing is to come of it. 

Further Reading:

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tanav12345 | Student

It means that he should go do a backflip of the wall and then do a 360 temperrr shot silent no-scope pistolswitch tiltscreen

 

THATS WHAT IS MEANS

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pathos | Student

One meaning is: to live on the periphery of life, or materially, or physically. The ultimate peek for those with outward looking eyes is to be a king (today it is a president). Through this position we can make much fury and noise, i.e. be influential on a physical level. Or we can be a professor and seek to influence that way but all investments in fame and fortune and seeking somebodyness and approval in the eyes of others, or better to say defining ourselves through others opinions no matter how grand, no matter if are president obama are 'a tale told by an idiot'.

Macbeth was content with who he was but when the future was dangled and an IDEA of what a good life should be he fell from the path.

 

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