The novel's title comes from the famous ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Learning that his wife is dead and faced with the dawning realization that his doom is imminent, Macbeth delivers the lines:
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,
Act V: Scene 5
On first encounter, this reference seems most pertinent to Benjy’s narrative. With a mental age of three, ‘idiot’ is the diagnosis he would have received from the medical establishment of the time. On a broader level, with its conviction that life is a pattern of anguish — and that this pain, for all its intensity, yet fails to imbue human existence with any lasting importance — the quotation resonates with all the novel’s characters.