Time and Tragedy
Macbeth by William Shakespeare and The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner are two tragedies with remarkable similarities. One notable parallel is the idea that time can be cruel and damaging. In The Sound and the Fury and Macbeth, Quentin and Macbeth see that time makes life tragic. Because of this idea, Quentin becomes distraught, perceiving life as meaningless.
Macbeth realizes the ineludible passing of time in his famous soliloquy, saying, ‘Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day’ (Shakespeare 5.5.22-3). The tone in his soliloquy is heavy and constant, emphasizing the burden of time. Macbeth says these words after hearing of Lady Macbeth’s suicide and before his last fight, so it makes sense that he is so distraught by time.
Quentin is also obsessed with the concept of time. After hearing a ringing bell, he says the sound ‘stayed in the air, more felt than heard, for a long time’ (Faulkner 79). Rather than hearing the bell, he feels it, as he constantly feels time. This bell motif reappears throughout his chapter of the book. Another example of Quentin’s obsession is when he goes to repair his watch. Quentin asks the store owner if any of the clocks are accurate, but does not want to know the time. Then, he leaves and says, ‘I could hear mine, ticking away inside my pocket,’ even though he left his watch at the shop. Quentin’s fixation with time is neither subtle nor pleasant.
‘All our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death’ (Shakespeare 5.5.25-6). Macbeth mentions the inevitability of time in his soliloquy. Quentin also addresses this truth caused by time and comes to believe that life is meaningless. He often mentions his father’s bitter words. ‘Because no battle is ever won he said. They are not even fought. The field only reveals to man his own folly and despair, and victory is an illusion of philosophers and fools’ (Faulkner 76). Quentin thinks about this and breaks his watch. He is trying to escape from the ‘Reducto absurdum of all human experience’ by getting rid of time (Faulkner 76).
Macbeth concludes that ‘Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon stage’ (Shakespeare 5.5.27-8). Quentin lives like a shadow, attempting to be meaningful and heroic like someone in his image of the past. However, he always fails, making himself a shadow of what really existed in the past. Quentin aims to fight Dalton Ames but faints before the first blow. Then he tries to kill both Caddy and himself instead of living shamefully, but cannot bring himself to. As a shadow, Quentin’s life signifies nothing. And as if that was not dismal enough, Quentin becomes completely nihilistic, ‘trampling [his] shadow into the dust’ (Faulkner 112). Time conquers life, and to conquer time, Quentin ends his life.
Time is a curse on life, and life only results in death. Quentin came to believe this, and let it overcome him. Macbeth also addressed this idea, yet he found reason to fight his last fight. Whereas Quentin did not have any hope, Macbeth did. While time may be seen as curse, it makes life precious. For Quentin, life was miserable because of time, but for others, life is great because of time.