Thursday, February 22, 2018

Shakespeare Reference in Darker Than Amber

John MacDonald’s Darker Than Amber, a volume in his Travis McGee detective series, contains an interesting reference to Macbeth, a reference that is used several times in one chapter (chapter nine). The book is written in the first person from the perspective of Travis McGee, who in this chapter is pretending to be drunk in order to obtain some information, putting himself out there as bait. MacDonald writes: “When he had put the drink down, he hovered. I stared straight ahead until he began to turn away, and then said, ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’” (p. 97). “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” is of course a line from Macbeth’s famous speech (one of my favorite speeches in all of Shakespeare’s plays). MacDonald has McGee continue: “‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Words of one of the poets, Albert. I made a great deal of money this month. A vulgar quantity’” (p. 98). He uses the phrase a few more times. “‘My associates are eaten by envy. My dear wife will smile upon me. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, Albert. In one of those tomorrows, I shall pry loose another plum from the tree of life. But will it be meaningful?’” (p. 98). I particularly like the line’s use in that paragraph, as it plays a bit more with the speech’s meaning. After all, the speech begins when Macbeth learns that his wife has died. So McGee saying “My dear wife will smile upon me” has a bit of humor to it. The speech ends with the line “Signifying nothing,” and so McGee’s question about whether it will be meaningful is also a playful nod. And perhaps McGee wouldn’t have added those playful touches if the server, Albert, had caught the Macbeth reference when he first uttered the line “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.” He plays again with the word “meaning” a moment later: “‘That is what happens to evenings. They all blur, merge, become meaningless. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. Albert, I know you have understanding” (p. 98). Then, a little later, the tone of the conversation changes, and Albert delivers a speech to McGee, ending it with “You following me?” McGee responds, “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” (p. 101). Then, McGee says he hopes they can pursue these matters later. MacDonald writes: “With an egg-sucking grin Albert said, ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, sir?’” (p. 101).

Darker Than Amber was published in 1966.

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