Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 648

Illustration of PDF document

Download Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth Study Guide

Subscribe Now

The lesson for the day in Mark Prosser’s English classroom is Macbeth’s soliloquy on hearing of Lady Macbeth’s death:

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrowCreeps in this petty pace from day to day,To the last syllable of recorded time,And all our yesterdays have lighted foolsThe way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor playerThat struts and frets his hour on the stageAnd then is heard no more. It is a taleTold by an idiot, full of sound and fury,Signifying nothing.

Macbeth’s criticism of life, based on his experience, reflects on the lack of experience or learning taking place in the classroom.

As his students enter the eleventh-grade English classroom, Prosser flatters himself on his ability to interpret their responses to their environment, attributing their restlessness to a change in the weather. The adolescents act out their relationships with one another as they roughhouse their way to their respective seats. Prosser is particularly aware of Gloria Angstrom, whose practically sleeveless pink sweater sets off the whiteness of her arms. His libidinous feelings toward Gloria make him a rival for her attentions with red-headed Peter Forrester, who has not prepared his homework assignment, but has succeeded in making her gasp as they enter the classroom. Prosser expresses his envy in contemplating the shortcomings of redheads in general and Peter in particular by calling on Peter first to be accountable for the homework assignment. Peter is unprepared. Prosser is unable to refrain from mocking his student’s superficial, inappropriate answers.

As a teacher, Prosser is very self-conscious; indeed, his self-consciousness matches that of his adolescent students. Rather than concentrating on the subject matter, he reacts to their behavior, or what he assumes to be their reactions to him. His interpretation of William Shakespeare’s lines is little better than that of the students, because it depends more on the interaction between teacher and students than on the play. When Peter eventually asks for a better explication, Prosser claims that he does not really know the meaning himself. When the students express their discomfort with this response, he tells them that he does not want to force his interpretation on them; in effect, he abandons the role of teacher to become a “human-among-humans.” He is more concerned with what they think of him than with teaching them to understand Shakespeare. When he does start to provide some information about Shakespeare, he allows their disinterest to determine his actions. He is continually evaluating his relationship with them, congratulating himself on what he supposes to be his acuteness of perception.

When the students each attempt to recite the passage from memory at the front of the room, Prosser remains preoccupied with the interaction among them, especially as they relate to Gloria. As he admonishes Geoffrey, the smart boy with whom Prosser identifies himself, Prosser intercepts a note from Gloria to Peter in which she asserts that Prosser is a great teacher and that she loves him. As the period ends, he tells her to stay.

When the others leave, he patronizingly admonishes her for note-passing and suggests that she does not know the meaning of love. He thinks, however, that her emotional sincerity is about to express itself in tears.

After she has left, Strunk, the physical education teacher, comes in to tell how Gloria had played a joke that morning on another of her teachers by letting him intercept a note that said she loved that teacher. Moreover, the same thing had been done to yet another teacher the day before. Prosser feels angry. He does not tell Strunk that he, too, has been a victim of this joke. He leaves the school assuring himself that Gloria had been emotional, about to cry because she really did care about him, regardless of the notes intercepted by the other teachers.