The atmosphere in the whole of the act in one of dismay, with a general feeling of tension and evil, due to the intentions, and then actions, of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Shakespeare uses atmosphere to create an effect, and to add to the tension and drama of the situation.
The atmosphere at the end of Act 1 is a great contrast to the atmosphere to that found in Act 2. At the end of Act 1 there is great tension, where Macbeth is mocked by Lady Macbeth, for refusing to kill Duncan, but then this is followed by Macbeth’s resolution to commit the evil deed.
When considering the social and historic setting of the play, you could identify that the way in which Lady Macbeth argues with Macbeth does not fit into the roles recognized in society for men and women. At that time it would have been unheard of for a woman to argue and win against her husband, especially if he were of a high position, as Macbeth is.
In ‘Macbeth’, Lady Macbeth is the main female character and although she is a woman, she has a very powerful influence over Macbeth.
Lady Macbeth acts in very manly ways and we rarely ever see a human, womanly side to her character. Shakespeare shows this by Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy. “Come you spirits, that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here” She is asking the gods to “unsex me here” to make her more manly by nature so she will show no quilt of the deed which is soon to take place.
Act 2 is a very dramatic act and is the focal point of this Shakespeare play, the main event being the murder of Duncan and the consequences after doing ‘the deed’
This act is filled with drama and tension throughout providing excitement for the reader and the audience.
Scene 1 is set in Macbeths courtyard late at night when Banquo and his son Fleance are walking to their bedrooms.
Banquo shows a feeling of anxiety about going to sleep because he fears that he will dream of the witches’ prophecies. ‘A heavy summons lies like lead upon me, and yet I would not sleep’ he says, clearly expressing his nervousness.
His feelings are also portrayed by Shakespeare using imagery.
‘There’s husbandry in heaven, their candles are all out’ he declares. Banquo feels like something is going to happen but does not know quite what will.
When Macbeth and his servant enter there is great tension in the air. Banquo, already nervous with the thought of the witches’ prophecies, is very tense and immediately calls for his sword when he hears someone approaching, despite the fact that he is in the safety of Macbeth’s castle.
Cautious of the fact that he feels something was going to happen with regards to the witches prophecies, we as the reader know exactly what is about to take place and we find ourselves wanting to shout out to Banquo and warn him of this so he can do something about it. This causes frustration and tension amongst the reader or the audience because we are frustrated at the fact Banquo is unaware of what is going to occur whereas we have full knowledge and are urging him to realise what we have already acknowledged.
The break down in 10 syllable sentences also adds to the tension and makes the conversation seem on edge, which it clearly is to begin with.
Banquo then mentions his dreams of the witches to Macbeth and Ironically Macbeth responds ‘I think not of them’ when it is quite the opposite. Nothing else has been on his mind since that day.
The tension in this scene is continued with Macbeth’s soliloquy scene.
When Macbeth is left alone in his courtyard, he hallucinates, seeing a dagger. He is confused as he wonders where the dagger came from. ‘Is this a dagger I see before me’ he calls out.
Was it a real dagger, or was it just a vision in his mind? Was it an evil spirit guiding him or was it in fact the dagger he planned to use to murder Duncan?
He is enticed by the dagger. ‘Come let me clutch thee’ he calls but is frustrated when he is unable to hold it clearly showing his desire to go ahead with the deed.
His mind is under great strain as he goes on to question ‘art thou but a dagger of the mind, a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?’
He is first alarmed but later seems to enjoy the horror. Shakespeare increases the tension in this scene by using language that is full of references to blood and darkness, “And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood which was not so before”
This creates images of the horror to come.
The scene ends with Lady Macbeth ringing the bell signifying that Duncan is now asleep. The bell is described as a knell which ironically is a funeral bell rung to announce a death
In act 2, scene 2, the murder of Duncan takes place. The audience should be on the edge of their seats by now, wondering if Macbeth will actually have the nerve to murder his king.
Lady Macbeth drugs the guards and takes their daggers. She then lays them ready for Macbeth. She would have murdered Duncan herself if he had not resembled her father. Macbeth returns having murdered Duncan.
Shakespeare gives us this image to add to the horror of what had taken place. The idea of killing someone resembling your father is a disturbing image causing unrest among the audience or the reader.
The details of the murder itself are cleverly left out by Shakespeare, leaving the reader on edge, curious as to how the murder was taking place, but we are only left with our own portrayal and mental images of how we think it was carried out, which is often full or gore and blood.
Imagery also plays an important part in creating the tension in act 2 scene 2. The first things we see as Macbeth enters are the two daggers in his hands and we know that Macbeth has deviated from the plan by not leaving the dagger with the guards framing them.
As the reader or the viewer when we first realises he has forgotten to plant the daggers we are shocked and wonder if this blip will cause plan to fall to pieces.
But we were wrong.
At this point Lady Macbeth takes control of the situation, as she often does, and replaces the daggers herself.
When she returns she turns on her husband calling him a coward, “My hands are of your colour, but I shame to wear a heart so white”, the image shows Macbeth shocked and terrified at what he has just done. He tells her husband to put on his night gown and go to bed and not to think about what he has just done.
Both Macbeth and his wife have their hands covered in the blood of Banquo. It is an unpleasant sight.
As they wash their hands in the bucket from the well the water quickly turns a vibrant shade of red which gives another disturbing image.
When Macbeth returns, having done the deed, they continue in not referring to the murder directly but continue to use metaphors.
Lady Macbeth is on edge as Macbeth reveals ‘I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?’
She replies saying ‘I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry’. Ironically in Elizabethan times they believed that the chirping of crickets was a herald of death.
The break down of flowing conversation and the quick changes of speaker clearly show the conversation between Macbeth and his wife is on edge.
Macbeth speaks of cries that he heard, which appeared to have shouted ‘Murder!’ and ‘sleep no more: Macbeth does murder sleep’.
The idea of murdering sleep is a strange and distressing thought. Sleep is regarded as quiet and safe whereas murder is quite the opposite. The two are never thought of being spoken of together but Shakespeare has included this to cause tension and unrest amongst the reader.
Scene 3 is the “Porter Scene.” A thunderous knocking at the door awakens the castle’s porter. This makes the audience begin to wonder if it is now that the murder will be discovered.
The Porter, being drunk, eventually stumbles his way across the courtyard. He talks about how he is the porter of the gate of hell. This is another disturbing image. Hell is the home to all evil and ironically the place in which he is referring to is Macbeth castle, who has appropriately just committed a murder and deserves to go to hell.
The character of Porter is very vulgar in both his appearance and his actions and words.
He is very scruffy and resembles a homeless person and he talks of obscene rude things of a sexual nature. This confuses the reader as it is hard to understand quite what he is saying and for what reasons because he is clearly drunk.
After the porter stops to urinate against the wall, he opens the door to reveal Macduff and Lennox. Duncan had asked them to come early and wake him up.
Macbeth enters, wondering who had been knocking at the door. After Macbeth greets Macduff, he heads toward the King’s chambers.
Meanwhile, Lennox is talking about the unnatural disturbances during the night.
He talks of ‘strange screams of death’ and ironically Macbeth replies ‘Twas a rough night’.
There is a lot of tension in this particular part of the scene. Not only is there tension in the scene but also for the reader because we know exactly what Macbeth has done, and what awaits Macduff when he enters Duncans room.
There is a long pause before Macduff discovers Duncan, thus adding to the tention.
Macduff screams with horror when he comes across the body of Duncan. Macbeth continues successfully to disguise all knowledge of the murder.
This whole scene is conducted off stage in the play and there is no text describing the event in the book.
The bell is rung again, this time the death has occurred, unlike when the bell was rung prior to Duncans murder signalling for Macbeth to commence to perform ‘the deed’
Macbeth leaves the scene with Lennox and off stage kills the two servants who he had previously set up, placing the daggers next to them as they slept and in doing so covering their hands in the blood of Duncan.
Scene 3 ends unusually with Malcom and Donaldbain, Duncan’s sons, planning to retreat to England and Ireland to rid themselves of any accusations.