Macbeth vsTomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth: Compare & Contrast
The Human mind is not a ‘static’ thing; it will constantly undergo transformations. The transformations or changes will be triggered by various factors, situations, and even fellow people. As various factors work as catalysts to the changes, individuals will tend to act and behave accordingly without being aware, that, what they are doing is correct or not. On the same lines, many fictional characters have also threaded this path and one prime example is Macbeth. Macbeth, a tragedy by William Shakespeare depicts the story of Macbeth, a brave general in King Duncan’s army, whose constantly ‘changing’ mind and ambitiousness streak leads him to his doom. With external factors like witches’ prophecies acting as the catalyst, he kills King Duncan and continues with his evil deeds. One evil act leads to other transforming Macbeth from a brave and kindhearted man to a sinister and cruel person who is willing to kill innocent persons to satisfy his evil intentions. Likewise but not as ‘extreme’ as Macbeth, the central character in John Updike’s “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth”, Mark Prosser, a high school teacher, influenced by various factors or actions of his students transforms from a teacher, who wanted to teach the play Macbeth to a sulking ‘lover’. So, this paper will discuss the similarities in both works.
The obvious similarity or coincidence is that the play Macbeth forms the crux of the plot in “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth”, and how the title of Updike’s work is retrieved or referenced from the lines in one of the well-known soliloquies in Macbeth. Apart from this, there are clear similarities in the actions of the protagonists in both literary works. That is, as pointed out above, the transformation of the characters, Macbeth and Prosser, aided by external factors or actions of other people were on similar lines, although the nature or process of transformation differs. In the opening of the play, Macbeth is presented as a brave and courageous General. He is introduced with elaborate praise of his brave deeds on the battlefield, “For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name), Disdaining Fortune, with his brandished steel, which smoked with ….. And fixed his head upon our battlements.” (I. ii. 16-23). But he is not strong enough to resist himself from caving into the external factors like Witches. Perhaps interpretations of Macbeth differ so widely…Ulrici, for instance, while underestimating the ambition motif, interprets the drama as based on the relation between the external world and man’s willpower. (Jekels 361). Likewise, Prosser comes into the class with a noble intention of doing his job, which on that day was to teach Macbeth. However, when her girl student, Gloria Angstrom enters the girl, and when she begins to get attention from fellow boy students, his mind starts to waver. Like, how Macbeth is influenced by the witches and Lady Macbeth to commit the crime of killing the King, Prosser enticed by the looks of Gloria starts to pick on the fellow students or his ‘competition’ with sardonic and disparaging jokes. Even the first line of his thoughts about Gloria clearly shows how he wonders (rather immorally) if she will wear a particular sweater with very short sleeves. “Mark wondered if today Gloria Angstrom would wear that sweater, ember-pink angora, with very short sleeves. The virtual sleeplessness was the disturbing factor: the exposure of those two serene arms to the air, white as thighs against the delicate wool” (Updike 1).
After both the character’s mind got ‘seeded’ with negative thoughts due to external factors, both of them start to unleash a set of negative actions. In the morning when the King’s body is discovered, Macbeth pretends to be angry with the guards and kills them without giving them a chance to prove their innocence. As the guards could have revealed the truth and could have blocked his wish of becoming the king, he killed them without any mercy. Even after he is crowned as the King, he wanted to eliminate all the threats to his throne. So, he first kills his friend Banquo and then orders to kill each and every person in Macduff’s castle, even not sparing the innocent wife and young children of Macduff. The thought that was instilled in his mind by the Witches turns him into a person who is so consumed with his ambition that he is ready to shed the blood of innocent people to achieve his aims. On the same lines, but not as bloody and tragic like Macbeth, Prosser focusing on Gloria starts to belittle the boy students through derisive jokes, and thereby tries to ‘eliminate competition’. Being usual high school students, the boys particularly Peter Forrester find ways to impress the girls, especially Gloria. But, Prosser asks the boys particularly Forrester to give odd and unrelated interpretations to the soliloquies, and when he struggles, he comes up with sarcastic jokes to belittle him. “The teacher, Mark Prosser, continually makes sarcastic and denigrating remarks at the expense of his students. He is well aware that he is making these disparaging remarks, but he is doing this to please other students. In this way, he is a fraud; he is securing some advantage at the expense of another student.” (Friedman 1159). Although Prosser’s actions against the students are not as violent as Macbeth, it is equal or more damaging than the physical violence, because it is negatively impacting the students developing psyche, inhibiting their confidence and creativity.
In the final analysis, as well, it is clear that both Macbeth and Prosser had dubious and negative intentions, and so it ended in a tragic and brooding manner respectively. In Macbeth’s case, the desire for power leads him to his demise; the praise that he earned by his bravery is ruined by his evil deeds. Macbeth was once a hero, but in the end, Malcolm calls his actions as is his “butchery” (Thompson and Ancona). On the other hand, Prosser had immoral intentions, and his actions and words also bordered on those intentions. Quite fittingly, like in the case of Macbeth, those intentions or wishes do not end his way, leaving him to sulk and feel embarrassed.
Friedman, Ruben. An Interpretation of John Updike’s “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and so Forth”. The English Journal. 61. 8 (1972): 1159-1162.
Jewels, Ludwig. The Riddle of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Psychoanalytic Review. (1943):361-385
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Classic Books Company. 2001.
Thompson, Mary Ives, and Francesco Aristide Ancona. He says/she says: Shakespeare’s Macbeth (a gender/personality study). Journal of Evolutionary Psychology. 2005.
Updike, John. “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth”. 21 October 2010.http://literature2.files.wordpress.com/2010/09/updike.pdf.