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Shakespeare, Macbeth, time, scansion, syllables


Among the most familiar lines in all Shakespeare are these Macbeth utters upon hearing the Lady Macbeth's death:

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.


So familiar, indeed, is this speech that we may easily overlook one striking correlatioon the imagery develops: that between syllables and time. Perhaps the phrasing "recorded time" conditions us to hear "time" as the simple equivalent of "history" or even "speech." But Shakespeare's precise phrase is "syllable of recorded time." Nowhere else does Shakespeare associate time with syllables.