English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

The New York Times’ Theater Review of ‘Macbeth’, being performed by John Douglas Thompson at the Duke on 42nd Street, starts with the headline, “The deed is done, the doers undone.”

What does this line mean? Does it mean that players performed their role, but just in mediocre way? Is Ben Bradley, the writer, being critical about their performance? Just for a taste, the beginning part of this article reads:

See that big guy over there? Almost Herculean, isn’t he, with his sinewy arms and swelling chest, the kind of man you can easily imagine as a master of war and of women. But look again, closely. There’s doubt in his face, too, as if he were not always sure of what he’s doing or even who he is. I bet you this Hercules could crack. You sure wouldn’t want to fight him, but then you wouldn’t want him on your team, either.”

share|improve this question
up vote 5 down vote accepted

No, the headline does not refer to the thespian abilities of the actors. Ben Bradley gave a favourable review to the play.

"The deed is done, the doers undone " alludes to the story of Macbeth; that both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plotted and committed murders (the deed is done), and subsequently became mentally tormented by their evil deeds (the doers undone).

Besides alluding to the play in his headline, Bradley also brings other references from the play in his review. For example,

This “Macbeth” banks the sound and fury that lies within the play and its title character.

The above is a direct reference to the famous verse from Macbeth:

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.

share|improve this answer
@atomscape/Rubust-san. Thanks. I thought the phrase was invention of the writer, as I was totally ignorant of the fact that it was wraught by Shakespeare. – Yoichi Oishi Mar 26 '11 at 11:13
Now I understood that ‘The deed is done. The doers undone’ is a line from the famous ‘Macbeth.’ But still I don’t understand what the writer wants to say by quoting this particular line. For instance, If I use a well-known line from a Kabuki play in the catch phrase of play review, it doesn’t make any sense as a punch line that crystallizes my whole view as a drama critic. Can you explain what the writer is actually saying with this line? – Yoichi Oishi Mar 27 '11 at 3:00
@Yoichi Oishi: I can only speculate the reviewer's intentions:1) He merely wants to summarise the gist of the play in the title of his review of it. 2) He is stating that the actors have succeeded in portraying the mental torment of the characters, Macbeth & Lady Macbeth. – stormscape Mar 27 '11 at 14:58

It's a reference to lines in the play Macbeth, in which "the deed" refers to Macbeth's murder of the king, Duncan.

The three witches in the opening scene mention that they will meet again "after the deed is done."

Later, after prodding by his wife, Macbeth does murder Duncan and emerges from the chamber saying:

I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?

As for "the doers undone" ... here is a spoiler alert. Don't read on if you intend to see the play and don't know the ending.





[Macbeth and Lady Macbeth pay for their crimes in the harshest possible manner.]

share|improve this answer
san. What does 'spoiler alert' mean? – Yoichi Oishi Mar 26 '11 at 22:31
@Yoichi Oishi: Oishi-san, a "spoiler alert" is what one says when about to reveal details of a film, play, book, or other work which might reveal surprising plot twists to someone who hasn't seen the work. I was kidding a little here, since most people know the plot of Macbeth, one of Shakespeare's most famous plays. – Robusto Mar 27 '11 at 1:26

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.