Analyse how act 5, scene 5 presents competing, contrasting, or complex ideas through specific choices and uses of language.

In act 5, scene 5 of the play, Macbeth expresses complex thoughts on time and mortality by using personification and metaphors for elements of time and for life itself. The contrast between truth and lies is evoked with the image of the moving forest, fulfilling the prophecy which he had thought impossible.

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Macbeth’s complex thoughts on the passage of time as it connects with mortality are expressed in his soliloquy that begins, “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.” Upon learning that his wife is dead, Macbeth is struck by the futility of his efforts. He uses personification for periods of time, stating that “tomorrow creeps” and “yesterdays have lighted… the way….”

He then personifies “life,” using theatrical metaphors to call it an actor or “player,” and then applies another metaphor to life, calling it “a tale told by an idiot….” Macbeth conveys that he is not merely saddened by his wife’s death, but is entering a state of despair. He concludes that despite all of his efforts, life is meaningless: it all signifies nothing.

Macbeth cannot indulge his grief for long, however, as a messenger brings news that the forest is moving toward them. A strong contrast is drawn between truth and lies, between appearance and reality. Furious, Macbeth threatens to kill the messenger for lying. He begins to lose his confidence as he doubts what the messenger has seen: “I… begin/To doubt the equivocation of the fiend/That lies like truth….” It is obviously impossible for trees to walk, yet they are doing so. This is exactly what was prophecied, that Birnam Wood would come to Dulsinane. Macbeth’s mood and behavior change to those appropriate for a decisive, active leader. This switch is marked by two instances of apostrophe, direct address, in one-syllable words and very short sentences: “Blow, wind! Come, wrack!”

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