What literary devices are used in Macbeth's soliloquy in Act 5, Scene 5?

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The repetition of "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" emphasizes the "petty pace" that seems to drag on, day after day.  Macbeth insists that it will go on this way "To the last syllable of recorded time." In other words, until the end of our time on earth (since we are the ones who "record" history).

When Macbeth says, "all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death," he uses a metaphor, comparing "yesterdays" to torches or lanterns that have been carried ahead. These torches have led other people, people who have lived in the past, to their deaths.  

Macbeth uses another metaphor when he compares life to a "brief candle."  This comparison emphasizes the fact that life can pass quickly, and it can be snuffed out so easily.

Next, Macbeth uses more metaphors to compare life to a "walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more."  First, he says that life is an illusion, like a shadow; it does not have substance.  Next, he compares life to an actor, one who acts dramatically on the stage, and then the performance is suddenly over.  Further, he uses "hour" as a kind of shorthand, called metonymy, for a short amount of time.  Just like he compares life to a "brief candle," he likens it here to an "hour," again, emphasizing its brevity.

Finally, Macbeth uses another metaphor to compare life to "a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing."  In other words, life is like a story with no point; it may be full of drama and emotion, but it is ultimately meaningless.  

jseligmann eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,


Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

Personifiaction (creeps) and alliteration (p,p) and repitition

To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Metaphor (yesterdays as a light) and alliteration (d,d) and again repetition

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.

Personification (life as a shadow and a player) and alliteration (p,p  t,t f,f) and internal rhyme (struts, frets)

madhusudan32 | Student

Several literary devices have been resorted to by Shakespeare in this memorable soliloquy figuring in Act 5, Scene 5, of Macbeth. This soliloquy occurs immediately after Macbeth is apprised of the passing away of Lady Macbeth and immediately before the moving of Birnam wood towards his castle.He realizes that the prophecies of the witches are partially proving untrue.He is on the rebound, finds himself in a paroxysm of deep depression and starts philosophising spontaneously about the futility of human existence.

The repetition (a well-known literary device) of the word "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow" denotes the acute boredom and insipidity of human life in general. In the next  line Shakespeare uses two figures of speech--personification and alliteration. In the fourth and fifth lines, the dramatist uses personification and alliteration figures of speech again. In "Out, out,brief candle", we once again notice the use of repetition of the word "out" indicating the slipping out of life, and in "brief candle" we notice the use of metaphor suggesting the short span of life. In the next three lines "Life's but.........heard no more", we notice a combined use of personification and metaphor suggesting the insubstantiality, brevity and futility of human life. In the last three lines: "It is a tale.............signifying nothing", Shakespeare has effectively used such figures of speech as metaphor and alliteration stressing insipidity, insubstantiality and futility of human existence.