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In the play Macbeth, Macbeth was king, and he was asking Lady Macbeth a question:

Macbeth: What is the night?
Lady Macbeth: At odds with the morning, which is which.

In Lady Macbeth's reply, I couldn't quite understand what "which is which" meant. What does it actually mean?

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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

She means that the night is arguing with ("at odds with") the morning to determine which of them is night and which is morning - it's a poetic way of describing the grey boundary between night and morning.

There is a famous Islamic test to determine when day has broken:

And eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct to you from the black thread of the dawn.

I suspect that this conversation is happening just around the time that the distinction would be barely visible.

By the way, in case it wasn't clear: his question "What is the night?" essentially means "What time is it?"; her answer means "Just before morning." But it sounds a lot better the way Shakespeare wrote it.

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That explains the "at odds with the moment", but where does "which is which" come in? –  Thursagen Jun 23 '11 at 22:09
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In my first sentence above: "which of them is night and which is morning". Again, the literal sense is that the hour - and the light - is just at that delicate balance between night and morning. This morning in Southern California, that moment was about 4:30; in Scotland (and I have no idea what time of year, of course) it might have been anywhere between 3 and 6. By setting the action at that hour - and making it clear that nobody's been to bed yet - Shakespeare emphasizes the fact that Los Macbeth haven't been getting much sleep lately. –  MT_Head Jun 23 '11 at 22:21
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Just to further MT's great explanation, a modern version might be something like ..

  • What the heck hour of the night is it anyway?
  • hmm, just now it look's like there's an argument going on between night and the sunrise...

An interesting question for me with a line like this, is W.S. really "getting at" some other meaning, and then perhaps, an even deeper meaning?

The lines (just on their own - twelve words - no further elements from the astounding work of art needed) certainly make me think of the distinction between good/bad, positive/negative, yin/yang...

I'm immediately put in to a somewhat spooky place where you don't quite know what's going on, and you - Macbeth - everyone - is internally mixed-up about just what is good and bad, what is reality and dream .. what is life and what is a story ... it's pretty potent stuff.

(There's a cheesy line from a pop song "Does anybody really know what time it is?" ... it's the same sort of thing diluted a hundred times.)

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+1 for " the distinction between good/bad, positive/negative, yin/yang" that reminds me of the many instances of "fair and foul" in the play. –  Manjima Jun 24 '11 at 14:51
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