What does the quote, "Life's but a walking shadow" mean in the play Macbeth?

Asked on by lovelygual

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brandih's profile pic

brandih | eNotes Employee

Posted on

This is one of Macbeth's famous quotes after being told of Lady Macbeth's death; he is filled with anguish, and a expresses a view found in many of Shakespeare's characters, that of life and its seeming futility.

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. (Act 5, scene 5)

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holland1953 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted on

Never having seen even ONE Shakespeare play, perhaps my view could shed a new light, 'untrammled' by Shakespeare-ism.

A unconnected explanation of "A Walking Shadow" could be that human life is SO fickle and unimportant in the grand scale of our knowing, that it is explained away in an entity that does not even consist of the universe's fundemental building blocks: Atoms.

The rest is added to by more recognisable anomalies.

hubb's profile pic

hubb | College Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

Posted on

A "walking shadow" was an understudy in a play (so, "poor player" with player meaning an actor and poor denoting, again, that they weren't good enough for the starting job). In this quote, shakespeare compares life to an understudy, who worries and brags about his or her chance on stage, but the day never comes. The actor is gone and the audience never even knew they were there.

"a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more:"

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jchristian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Honors

Posted on

This is a very famous quote from _Macbeth_. The rest of this quote is "a poor player who 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 has just heard that his wife is dead (perhaps committed suicide) and he is realizing that all that he has hoped to gain is fast becoming impossible.

His words are in this SOLILOQUY are philosophical musings on the fleeting nature of life and a man's role in it. He is abandoning all hope in accomplishing his goal.


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