Of Astronomical Significance
I had to pass through London recently, and took advantage of the layover to see a stunning new performance of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. A cruel story, of course. You probably remember it merely as a tale about the murderous ambition of the title character and his wife, and their ultimate destruction. But this particular production brought home to me something else that I think Shakespeare was wrestling with – that has also become an acute problem for us.
One reason we read great books is because they preserve many things, things often invisible within our current culture. The most famous passage in Macbeth comes towards the end, before Macbeth’s defeat by forces sent from England to Scotland by the pious King Edward the Confessor. Lady Macbeth has just killed herself in despair over her guilt. Her husband’s reaction seems philosophical, but he’s really descended into a kind of ultimate indifference:
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,
The first two lines are usually overlooked, which, in modern terms, say: oh well, she would have died at some point anyway. . . .
What comes through quite forcefully here is a certain view – of everything. A view now quite common in our culture: that the whole of our universe, what Christians think of as God’s Creation, is a meaningless spectacle.