Macbeth is a play about a Thane who plots to kill the king, along with his wife’s influence, after he has been visited by 3 witches who told him that he would be king. Macbeth was written by a poet called William Shakespeare in 1604-1605. The King at that time was King James I who employed Shakespeare in 1603 to work in his theatre. King James I of England was also the Scottish King. He was King James VI of Scotland. He was an expert in torture. He designed torture instruments for fun. He was a Catholic King and he executed a lot of people most of whom were Protestants. He believed in the supernatural especially witch craft. He even wrote a book on Deamonology. In fact, he believed that a storm that nearly killed him was sent by witches so he sent out men to find them and they went to North Berwich where they killed a few women.
The play is based on social and historical facts. For example the King at that time was a Scottish so was King Duncan in Macbeth. Macbeth in the play also believed in the supernatural just like King James I. A sailor in Macbeth was hit by a storm which had been sent by a witch just like the incident that happened to King James I. There was an actual King called Macbeth who reigned for 30 years. Macbeth in the play only reigned for 1 year. Banquo in Macbeth was in the King’s army as 2nd in command and Banquo in Shakespeare’s time was an ancestor of King James I. He was also involved in the killing of King Duncan, an earlier King.
At the time that Shakespeare was writing Macbeth a plot to kill a Scottish King, Gunpowder plot, was taking place. Shakespeare might have based Macbeth on the historical events that were happening at that time. Macbeth was also a play about a plot to kill a Scottish King.
In Act 2 of Macbeth a plot to kill a Scottish King is put into action. After Lady Macbeth had gotten the guards drunk she took their daggers and laid them ready for Macbeth. Then after she rang the bell Macbeth took their daggers and killed Duncan, Scottish King, The atmosphere in this act is tense, evil, terrifying and murderous. This scene is full of all kinds of evil thoughts about witches, the super natural, murder and violence. This is probably the darkest scene in the whole of Macbeth because it all happens in the night, witches hour.
Shakespeare begins Act 2 at midnight in the courtyard of Macbeth’s castle. Fleance entering the scene with a torch creates a dark atmosphere. Shakespeare uses darkness and creates a dark mood by the language and actions of the characters. Banquo says to Fleance “How goes the night, boy?”
This suggests to the audience that it is pitch black in the night because Banquo is unaware of his surroundings. He also seems a little confused for it is midnight, witches hour when evil and mystery begin. Banquo confides in Fleance, who is his son, and tells him that
“A heavy summons lies like lead upon me,
And yet I would not sleep.”
Banquo is having trouble sleeping. He seems to be having nightmares about the witches. It is as if they are invading his dreams and preventing him from sleeping. He desperately wants to close his eyes because he uses the word “lead” which is a heavy metal. He keeps on thinking about the “3 weird sisters”. Banquo didn’t use the word ‘witch’ because he thought it was associated with evil and he didn’t want others to think that he was associated with them. Also the “3 weird sisters” was a much better and pleasant phrase. It didn’t sound evil.
As Banquo had been unable to sleep he was tense and on edge. As he hears a noise he commands Fleance to give him his sword and says
Banquo has been startled by noise and is frightened so he immediately wants to protect his son and himself. He is ready to fight the intruder. There is a 4 second silence before Macbeth answers and says
The 4 second silence gives an effect and an atmosphere of suspense, confusion and tension on the audience. It is also there because of iambic pentameter. This is when a line is 10 syllables long. This happens throughout Macbeth except for in the parts where the character is in a state of panic or distressed.
Banquo wants to talk to Macbeth about the 3 weird sisters but Macbeth has other things on his mind and bribes Banquo into leaving it for later. Macbeth says
“If you shall cleave to my consent, when ’tis,
It shall make honour for you.”
Macbeth is telling Banquo that if he leaves the problem till later then he will get his reward. Even though Banquo accepts the bribe he tells Macbeth that he would only support him honourably and says
“But still keep
My bosom franchised and allegiance clear, I shall be counselled.”
Banquo is telling Macbeth that as long as he keeps him from doing anything wrong he will listen to him. This may suggest that Banquo is already becoming a little suspicious of Macbeth. This scene also creates a conspiratorial atmosphere.
Macbeth’s soliloquy allows the audience to read his thoughts.
Macbeth is now alone in the darkness of his castle and he starts to think. Macbeth’s mind is not thinking straight and at this moment he is very nervous, as a result,he starts to hallucinate and imagines that a dagger is before him. He says
“Is this a dagger I see before me?
The handle toward my hand?”
Macbeth is uncertain and confused. He is not sure whether the dagger is real or just his imagination. We know this because of his use of interrogatives. He also says
“Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?”
Macbeth tries to reach for the dagger but he cannot get hold of it. The dagger was moving in the direction of Duncan’s room. This could have happened for two reasons. Either Macbeth was really hallucinating and imagined the dagger was there or the witches had been playing with his mind and projected an image of the dagger. Macbeth says
“Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going.”
In Macbeth’s soliloquy iambic pentameter is inconsistent. It has been shaken up to show Macbeth’s shakiness and trembling. For example he says
“As this which now I draw.”
This line is only 6 syllables long unlike the next line which is 11 syllables long.
“Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going.”
Shakespeare uses lexical sets of violence, the supernatural and the senses. This suggests to us that Macbeth is trying to think like a murderer. He does this in order to build up his courage so that he won’t be able to change his mind. He says
“The curtains sleep, witchcraft celebrates.”
Shakespeare is making Macbeth’s thoughts more evil. He is now in an evil frame of mind and he is in an absolute turmoil which he can barely keep control of. He is completely entranced by evil. It might be that the witches have taken over his body or it might just be that the darkness is bringing out Macbeth’s evil side. Macbeth now at this time is so determined that Duncan will die that he says
“I go and it is done.”
As far as Macbeth is concerned Duncan is as good as dead.
At the end of Macbeth’s soliloquy he uses the words “Knell” and “Hell.” A knell is a bell which is rang at a funeral or at someone’s death. Macbeth is saying that it is Duncan’s death that will send him to heaven or to hell. He says
“Hear it not Duncan, for it is a knell
That summons thee to heaven or to hell.”
Macbeth is in an evil state of mind so he doesn’t think that anything good will come out of killing Duncan.
In the next scene the audience watch Lady Macbeth as she does her soliloquy while the murder is done off stage. Shakespeare has the murder committed off stage so that it will have the effect of suspense on the audience. We see Macbeth enter Duncan’s room and then come out of it covered in blood. While he is in there we hear disturbing noises which gives a terrifying and bloody effect. All the audience can do is to try and visualise in their minds what they think is happening. There is also an atmosphere of tension and worry with Lady Macbeth on stage starting to think that Macbeth has been caught.
In her soliloquy Lady Macbeth is on edge. Her iambic pentameter is fragmented .Her nerves have taken over her. She is panicking. She says
Just like with Macbeth, Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy is full of interrogatives. She uses 2 exclamation marks in one short sentence which shows the audience that she is really jumpy, stressed and anxious. A woman of such evil is startled by the shrieking of an owl. It shows how frightened, confused and tense Lady Macbeth really is. So many questions are running through her mind. In Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy we see her in a totally different light. Usually she is evil, dominant and powerful but now she is timid and jumpy. It is as if she has swapped souls with Macbeth because he is usually the one who is timid and vulnerable. Now Macbeth is the more evil one, he is the one committing the murder and she is the one worrying about the consequences and thinks that someone might have seen them. She says
“Alack, I am afraid they have awakened”
She starts to question herself whether she made the right decision to send Macbeth to kill the King but then she goes on to say why she couldn’t have killed him.
“Had he not resembled,
My father as he slept, I had done’t.”
She is explaining that if it was not for the fact that he looked like her father while he slept she would have killed him. We see here that Lady Macbeth must have loved her father. This suggests to the audience that Lady Macbeth had had a strong relationship with her father showing her good and caring side. On the other hand this may suggest that she is the 4th witch. She got everything ready for Macbeth but yet she did not do it herself. Witches can get everything ready for a murder but they cannot kill people. She says
“I laid their daggers ready.”
Shakespeare uses noises to create a more evil and murderous atmosphere making the night more spooky and making the audience more jumpy and on edge. For example
“The owl screams and the crickets cry.”
This suggests that the owl is either frightened or it is getting ready to kill its prey. The crickets cry suggests that they are in pain or are hurt. Also Macbeth’s shouting in the background gives us a more horrific picture of what is happening in Duncan’s room.
The minor sentences and the interrogatives show a sense of confusion, tension and worry. For example Macbeth says
Then Lady Macbeth says
Macbeth is worried and regrets what he has done. He says
“This is a sorry sight.”
As he looks at his hands he sees Duncan’s blood. He is now broken and destroyed. He knows that this will haunt him for life. The short sentences also give a fragmented effect. Macbeth’s speech has been affected by his fear. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are both jumpy and on edge. The quick exchange of questions and answers highlight this.
Macbeth tells his wife that he had heard voices. He says
“There’s one did laugh in his sleep and one cried
Macbeth is imagining people talking. He is hearing voices. It is as if his conscience has made him paranoid and now it is haunting him. He then goes on to say
“One cried “God bless us!” and “Amen!” the other.”
Macbeth is horrified at the fact that he could not say the word “Amen” when one of the guests said “God bless us!” He now realises that he cannot pray while they could. He knows that he has been cut off from God, from goodness and the morality of the world. He has now gone over to the evil and dark side. He knows that he is going to hell and that God has stopped blessing him. He wanted to say Amen but it was stuck in his throat. The inability to pray in Shakespeare’s time was thought to be bewitched. It was as if the witches had taken power and control over his body.
Macbeth mentions the word “God” “sleep” and “Amen” so often because he knows that these are the things he is never going to be able to do or say ever again. He has been cut off from God, sleep and is incapable of saying a prayer. He has been separated from the natural world and will now begin to live in a godless world full of corruption and evil.
Lady Macbeth uses her control and dominance over Macbeth to take charge of the situation. She commands Macbeth and says
“Give me the daggers.”
A sharp, short and strong command. She has pulled herself together and is back to her old evil self. Now that the murder was over Macbeth and herself had switched places. He was the coward one and she was the powerful one once again.
The scene ends with persistent knocking on the gate. Someone has come to Macbeth’s castle. The knocking terrifies Macbeth and once again he is reminded of the evil deed he has done. The knocking may represent the sound of his heartbeat or symbolise the inevitability of justice catching up with them.
There are so many references to blood because all he can think about is the blood on his hands. He says
“Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash his blood clean from my hand? No”
He knows that he will never be able to mentally wash the blood off his hands. He will always be polluted with Duncan’s blood.
Unlike Lady Macbeth, Macbeth knows that this will never go away. He is more moral than she is.
In the last few lines of Act 2 scene 2 Macbeth wishes he could turn back the time or that the knocking would wake Duncan up. He says
“Wake Duncan with thy knocking. I would the couldst.”
He is really regretting what he has done. He would rather be lost in thought than to face up to what he has done. He says
“To know my deed, ’twere best not to know myself.”
Therefore in Act 2 scenes 1&2 Shakespeare uses a variety of techniques to create a dramatic tension and to introduce the audience to his characters. For example by the language and words Lady Macbeth uses portrays her as an evil, manipulative, controlling and dominant woman who is full of greed and ambition. He uses the effect of pauses and noises to create a dark and mysterious atmosphere keeping the audience on edge throughout the scenes. One of Shakespeare’s clever techniques was to have the murder committed off stage. This effect would have made an impact on his audience filling them with suspense and curiosity keeping them alert throughout the scene.