Macbeth

10 Great Shakespeare Soliloquies: Macbeth

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09.11.2021

We asked an expert panel to select their top soliloquies. Today, writer and comedian Ben Elton names his favourite.

Compiled by Andy McLean

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7. Macbeth (Macbeth, Act 5 Scene 5)

When we asked our experts to pick their favourite soliloquies, Ben Elton didn’t hesitate. He chose Macbeth’s response after hearing news of Lady Macbeth’s death. Although strictly speaking Macbeth’s servant Seyton is on stage during this speech, it is often presented as a soliloquy, highlighting Macbeth’s isolation.

“It’s an obvious choice, but only because the stunning clarity and stark beauty of its description of humankind's essential irrelevance is so endlessly riveting,” says Elton. “Macbeth was of course in a pretty bleak mood at the time of speaking but personally I don’t see the soliloquy as necessarily depressing. The speech can be seen as liberating.

“It’s our sense of self-importance and manifest destiny which has done so much damage to ourselves and our planet. A reality check such as this one should lead us to take comfort and inspiration from our small place in the grand scheme of things, rather than seeing ourselves as separate and dominant.

“As a comic writer I have always found the best comedy is to be found in recognising the smallness, fear, vanity and inadequacy at the core of every soul. Only by recognising that can we hope to rise above it.”

Here's Macbeth’s soliloquy in full:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. 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.

To read about other soliloquies in our series, see the Bell Shakespeare blog.

Teachers: Check out Macbeth: The (Socially Distanced) Rehearsal, a one-hour video for classrooms.

To be continued…

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