Macbeth Theme of Time
(Click the themes infographic to download.)
Macbeth's most famous speech begins "Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow," so, yes: we're going to say that time matters. (And, to be honest, this theme takes the Tough-o-Meter up a notch or two, but we think you can handle it.) Basically, the idea is that time literally comes to a halt when Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the throne. All of the events that take place between the murder and the final battle seem to happen out of time, almost in some sort of alternate reality, in some witch-land outside of history. Macduff's final remark that the "time is free" now that Macbeth is defeated and Malcolm is set to take his rightful position as hereditary monarch clues us in to the relationship between the seeming disruption in linear time and the disruption of lineal succession: without its rightful ruler, a country has no future.
Questions About Time
- What is the weird sisters' relationship to time? Are they the only figures capable of seeing into the future?
- What kind of future does Lady Macbeth imagine for herself and her husband? Do either of the Macbeths spend much time imagining the future? (And what do you make of the fact that they apparently don't have children, even though Lady Macbeth talks about breastfeeding?)
- How does Shakespeare's interest in representing the past (11th century Scottish history) in Macbeth relate the play's overall portrayal of time?
Chew on This
Although Macbeth did everything in his power to secure his future on earth, by the end of the play, time is out of his control.
In Macbeth time comes to a complete halt and the "hours" are thrown out of joint when King Duncan is murdered. Normal time is only restored when Macbeth dies.