Wordy Wednesday – “Crack of doom”

Today’s Wordy Wednesday is a phrase of grand, earth-shattering proportions.

Behold the CRACK OF DOOM. DOOOOOOM. Isn’t it just an awesome phrase to say out loud?

The phrase stems from the biblical concept of the Day of Judgment – the moment when God passes on final judgment over all nations, with trumpet blasts signaling the end of the world. In connection with ‘Crack of Doom’:

  • Crack: refers to a sharp noise, like the sound of a trumpet. It can also refer to the crack that separates the earthly world from the non-earthly one.
  • Doom: synonymous term for the Day of Judgement (Doomsday).

Shakespeare coins the phrase in Macbeth (IV. i. 112-117), when Macbeth reacts to the prophecies of the three witches:

MACBETH: Thou art too like the spirit of Banquo: down!
Thy crown does sear mine eye-balls. And thy hair,
Thou other gold-bound brow, is like the first.
A third is like the former. Filthy hags!
Why do you show me this? A fourth! Start, eyes!
What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?

To his despair, the witches reveal that Banquo (a threat to Macbeth’s royal lineage) will start a line of kingship so far that – Macbeth exaggerates – will extend to the ‘crack of doom’. He uses the phrase in a temporal sense to affirm his suspicions of Banquo’s line taking over, and even better, going on till the end of time. Nothing says rage and revenge like a good ‘ole session of over-thinking. And Macbeth does it like a pro.

Other references to the phrase are also found in a few of Shakespeare’s sonnets, such as Sonnet 116 – ‘Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, but bears it out even to the edge of doom.’ And Sonnet 55 – ‘Your praise shall still find room even in the eyes of all posterity that wear this world out to the ending doom.’

Besides Shakespeare, the other well-known mention of the phrase occurs in the literary world of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth. In The Lord of the Rings, the Cracks of Doom are not temporal but actual, physical cracks and fissures inside the great volcano of Orodruin, also called Mount Doom.

Even though Shakespeare and Tolkien don’t explicitly mention the Day of Judgment event, they use its imagery of large-scale finality and catastrophe to heighten their own characters’ struggles – from Macbeth’s all-encompassing fears over the witches’ prophecies, to Frodo’s ultimate decision to throw the One Ring into the cracks of Mount Doom.

Photo and blog post by: Vineeta Moraes


Martin, Gary. “The crack of doom.” The Phrase Finder. Web. 28 Nov 2012. <http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/103950.html&gt;

“Cracks of Doom.” Tolkien Gateway. Web. 28 Nov 2012. <http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Cracks_of_Doom&gt;

Oxford English Dictionary. Web. 28 Nov 2012. <http://www.oed.com&gt;



  1. Nice one! There is some suggestion, too, that it is not just Macbeth exaggerating, but also Shakespeare flattering: Banquo supposedly being an ancestor of James VI & I, and so James’ line continuing to rule till Doomsday. Not that strong on the prophecy front then! 😉

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