Analyse the dramatic qualities of Act 1 Scene 7, and Act 2 Scene 1 and 2, and consider their importance to the play as a whole. Show how these may be influenced by the social and historical context, or different cultural contexts.
Shakespeare uses a soliloquy in Act 1 Scene 7 to show the audience how Macbeth is feeling at this point in the play. This is a dramatic device, used when an actor speaks his feelings. The soliloquy would usually be staged simply, with the actor standing alone, so that an audience would be able to generate his or her own ideas and views of the character from their performance. Shakespeare tells us, through the soliloquy, that Macbeth is agonising over killing King Duncan. Macbeth wrestles with his moral conscience, and he worries that, although he has the ambition, he may not be able to carry out the deed. He also worries about the consequences of his actions, as ‘If th’assasination could trammel up the consequence…this blow might be the be-all and the end-all’. This means that if the murder had no consequences, Macbeth would surely commit it. There is a lot of imagery of heaven and hell in the play; in the soliloquy he refers to ‘cherubin’ (angelic children). Macbeth obviously fears eternal damnation. An Elizabethan audience would not be able to empathise, or even sympathise, with Macbeth. It would cause a tremendous outcry, and the audience would believe he deserved eternal damnation, as he was a soldier, meant to protect the king, and also because of the strong beliefs in divine right.
Then, on line 12 of the soliloquy, Macbeth starts to enumerate reasons not to kill King Duncan. As he is a soldier, he as sworn allegiance to Duncan. He also goes on to mention that he, as Duncan’s’ host; he ‘…should against his murderer shut the door’. The fact that he intends to kill one of his own houseguests would have been a cause of shock to an Elizabethan audience, as, in Shakespeare’s time, the concept of hospitality was considered very important. The soliloquy contains emotive language to provoke emotion, as well as caesura and pauses, allowing a quick intake of breath, and make the speech sound more hesitant, and emphasis how difficult it is for Macbeth.
The soliloquy is important to the play as a whole as it gives you an understanding how Macbeth felt before he submitted to his wife and agreed to the murder, and allows audiences to form opinions and ideas.
Shakespeare makes Lady Macbeth a very dominant person, who is in complete control of Macbeth. She interrupts the soliloquy, Macbeth’s deepest thoughts and emotions; this shows her dominance and strength of character. She uses a verbal attack to convince Macbeth that the assassination of Duncan is the right thing to do. Firstly, she uses emotional blackmail to call him a coward, accusing him of looking ‘…so green and pale.’ This is a metaphor for Macbeth’s guilt, accusing him of looking sickly. She calls Macbeth a liar, by saying ‘…you break this enterprise to me?’ This is effective because, in Elizabethan times, to attack someone’s manhood was an unacceptable and outrageous thing to do; especially coming from his wife. An Elizabethan audience would be shocked as wives were meant to obey their husbands, not they the other way round. When Macbeth stands up to her, an audience would be temporarily relieved, as they would believe that Macbeth’s good conscience has beat his ‘vaulting ambition’.
However, Lady Macbeth then uses emotional blackmail to force him into doing her bidding, calling him ‘…a coward in thine own esteem.’ This shows that she is a manipulative and dominating character, who will stop at nothing to get her own way. She also says ‘I have given suck and know how tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me…dashed the brains out, had I so sworn’. She is telling Macbeth that if she had sworn to commit the murder, she would do it. We know from other parts of the play that the Macbeths’ have no children, and even as she celebrates the idea of motherhood, she pairs it with violence and destruction. An audience of today would probably not be too shocked by a dominant woman in a relationship; as now women and men are equal, but the even the idea of killing an innocent child would shock them, as it would an Elizabethan audience. In Elizabethan times, the man should be in control. Women of Shakespeare’s’ time would perhaps be a little drawn in by this, as it is something that they have never seen before.
Act 2 Scenes 1 and 2
Act 2 Scene 1 is a short scene containing another soliloquy from Macbeth. The scene takes place in a courtyard at night. There is a lexical field of supernatural, where Banquo states that the clock ‘goes down at 12’. Midnight is the time where dark spirits are supposed to come out, and at the time anything unexplainable was blamed on witchcraft. During Macbeths soliloquy, Macbeth is tormented by fear of the unknown, and he envisions a dagger, which Elizabethans would, again, link to being supernatural, and therefore be found scary, a source of tension and confusion. At the time it would probably have been staged quite simply, perhaps the dagger wouldn’t appear physically, as this would scare the audience, that Macbeth would be seeing something that they couldn’t see. Modern staging would probably be more complex, perhaps with dramatic music to add to the tense atmosphere. Shakespeare uses dramatic techniques for example caesura, and enjambment to quicken the pace, and to make it sound more like natural speech.
It flows easily, and contains language associated with movement, e.g. ‘hear not my steps’ and ‘stealthy pace’, emphasising that Macbeth is being led to the deed. Also, Shakespeare has written the soliloquy in blank verse to reflect and emphasise its serious nature. Again, there is a lexical field of supernatural as we are informed that Macbeth has ‘wicked dreams’. Calm sleep is reflective of innocence, and if Macbeth no longer sleeps calmly, then he has lost his innocence by just contemplating the murder. The bell would cause an audience to jump, because of the suspense, tension and heightened senses. The scene finishing in a rhyming couplet ‘Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell/That summons thee to heaven or to hell.’ This is a reminder that he is about to commit evil. A knell is a funeral bell, so it is as if to say that the bell was Duncan’s death sentence. I think that this scene is significant towards the play as a whole, as it shows us that Banquo has a son, Fleance. Also, I think that Shakespeare wanted us to note the differences between Banquo and Macbeth, and that while Macbeth awaits the murder, Banquo stays loyal to Duncan, as he wishes to keep his ‘allegiance clear’.
Shakespeare does not show the murder to create more dramatic suspense. An Elizabethan audience would have been too shocked to see a murder performed on stage, as well as the fact that it would have been hard to stage (taking away ‘dead’ bodies etc.) because there were no curtains. While Macbeth is assassinating the king, Shakespeare shows us the physiological effects on Lady Macbeth. She is clearly anxious, as an audience would be at this point, with heightened senses. She hears an owl shriek on line 3, an animal associated with witchcraft. She refers to the owl as the ‘fatal bellman’. The fatal bellman was a watchman in London, who rung bells before executions and burials. A modern day audience may not know what this means, but it would increase the tension in an Elizabethan audience, as some of them may have heard the bellman before, and most would know what it was. When Macbeth returns, he has bloody hands, which could be reflective of his now bloodstained soul; he is also holding the daggers. Rapid adjacency pairs quicken the pace, as well as heighten the tension. She claims that she would have committed the murder if the King had not resembled her father as he slept. In my opinion, she just did not want to actually carry out the murder herself, and just wanted an excuse for not doing it.
Lady Macbeth is very anxious, as she uses short imperatives when conversing with Macbeth. There is a religious lexical field, ‘god’ ‘prayers’ ‘amen’ etc. Macbeth’s states that Amen got stuck in his throat, and not being able to say the word implies that god will not bless him, so he is doomed to eternal damnation. A Christian audience would probably be dismayed and disgusted at this point, that Macbeth can so willingly go against God, and shocked to find that if you commit murder, God will no longer bless you. He goes on to say he heard voices telling him he will sleep no more, as we know that being able to sleep calmly implies innocence. On a stage, Macbeth could either be portrayed as talking to himself, or telling his wife his story desperately, as if she can do something to help him.
Macbeth is guilty and remorseful, and unable to face his crime. Lady Macbeth lacks fear or conscience. She is cold-blooded, and will do anything to avoid blame. On the other hand, Macbeth is disgusted with what he has done, and feels that he will never be rid of the blood on his hands. This scene is significant to the whole play as it displays the differences between husband and wife, that although he committed the murder, she is in fact devoid of guilt or shame, though he is remorseful.