What dramatic effect does Shakespeare aim for in Act 2, Scene 2? How does he achieve it? How do the events in this scene relate to other sections of the play?
Shakespeare is history’s most famous playwright and his works are known through out the world. His popularity has continued due to his capability to write about universal themes, which intrigue and entice a modern audience into cinemas and theatres despite the age of his plays. Murder, comedy, love, tragedy and the supernatural all invite people to watch his plays, as there is something for everyone.
This idea of writing and making films, stories and plays which appeal to such a large audience, is a criteria that film directors and authors still try to fill. Shakespeare has managed to combine each of these factors into one of his greatest piece of work, ‘Macbeth’. This is one of the four great tragedies (‘King Lear’, ‘Hamlet’, ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Othello’) written by Shakespeare. Not only is it one of the four tragedies, but is also one of the most well of his plays.
In order for Shakespeare to be able to write a play, he had to be careful to write about topics relevant to his audience. The topics that were relevant in Shakespeare’s time are still relevant today. This is what gives Shakespeare’s plays the power that they hold.
At the time of Shakespeare, King James I was the ruler of England who often went to watch the plays. In the plays, it was very important for the audience to be entertained because if they were not, the audience would show their disapproval by talking and shouting over the actors.
At this point in history, there was a wide spread belief in the ‘Divine Right of Kings’. This was the belief that the king was a man who was appointed by God, which was why there was so much respect shown to those who were part of the Royal Family. Despite the need to entertain, plays such as ‘Macbeth’, which were based around the monarchy, would have to be handled delicately. The presence of James I meant that Shakespeare also had to make sure that his plays did not offend King James I. This could be part of the reason to why the murder of Duncan in Act 2, Scene 2 was not shown on stage. Also, it may not have been realistic enough because of lack of special effects available at the time.
In Act 2, Scene 2, Macbeth has killed the king. The Divine Right of Kings meant that the murder of the king was not only an act against the country and the law, but also an act against God. The murder of Duncan acts as Macbeth’s downfall, mirroring the idea of the Divine Right. There is also a possibility that the murder of the king is not shown on stage because the enormity of the crime could be more horrific in the audiences’ imagination than could be depicted on stage.
After the murder of Duncan, Macbeth becomes ruthless, murdering cold bloodedly. At first it was in order to protect his place as king but later turning into an act of vengeance.
“No boasting like a fool;
This deed I’ll do before this purpose cool,
But no more sights.” (Act 4, Scene 1, Lines 152-154)
At the beginning of Act 2, Scene 2, Lady Macbeth is awaiting her husband who has gone to murder Duncan. Lady Macbeth was carefully planning the murder of Duncan from when she first found out about the predictions of the witches in Act 1, Scene 5. The plan of the murder is told throughout the scene as the story unfolds. The first line of the scene begins with Lady Macbeth saying that the alcohol, which she used to drug Duncan’s guards in order for the murder to take place, has enabled her to take the actions that lead Macbeth to take the thrown.
“That which hath made them drunk, hath made me bold;” (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 1)
Lady Macbeth seems vary shameless in her actions and this would shock a contemporary audience, as she is a woman. Women in this period were very much unseen and reserved. This strength in character is sustained throughout the scene but because of her denial towards the scale of the crime here, it turns out to be her downfall as she is unable to cope with what she has done.
She then goes on to say that the wine that quenched their thirst has ‘given [her] fire’. Again, this shows her confidence but also indicates the evil that she is doing. Hell is often referred to as being fiery, showing that the crime they were committing was against God and that as a punishment to what they had done, they would be sent to hell. Despite this knowledge that she holds, she does not seem deterred and seems willing to risk everything as long as it gets her something, even if it is only during her time on earth.
The stage directions then say that an owl shrieks off stage. There are often referrals to the owl which was a bird linked with evil as it is a bird of the night. The owl is a bird of play and there fore it is understandable to why an Elizabethan audience would connect death to an animal, which hunts and kills during darkness. In Act 2, Scene 2, Lady Macbeth talks of the owl shrieking and ‘[a] fatal bellman’. This is directly after Macbeth has murdered Duncan. In Act 2, Scene 1, there is a knell heard off stage that links in with the idea of a bellman ringing the funeral bell, calling for Duncan.
Other animals such as crickets, owls and other birds were linked with death during Elizabethan times. Lady Macbeth refers to the raven, which is a dark black bird, again, a bird related to death.
“The raven himself is hoarse,
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan…” (Act 1, Scene 5)
The hoarse raven shows that the raven, a bird of death, has been crying for so long and loudly that its throat is sore. This occurs even before Duncan has been killed, showing that the death of the king is so horrendous that even before he dies, there is
such mourning throughout the world because it goes against the natural order or status quo. Even though Lady Macbeth is planning the death of Duncan, she still holds respect for him and calls his death ‘fatal’. This is to show the idea of the king being chosen by God and how awful it is when a good king such as Duncan dies. This would have been seen by King James I to be a sign of respect towards him and he would probably take it to be a comparison to how it would be if someone was to kill him.
Lady Macbeth calms herself after hearing the owl shrieking, and continues to reassure herself that what if happening if not natural, describing the night as being “the stern’st good-night” meaning that it is Duncan’s last night. She says that Macbeth ‘is about it’ meaning that he is presently killing the king. From now until the entrance of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth tells the story of what she has done to ensure that the guards are not woken during the murder and to make sure that everything goes to plan.
There seems to be an inability for both characters, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, to say the word ‘murder’ and instead work around the word, referring to it as ‘the deed’ or ‘it’.
On the entrance of Macbeth there is a sudden change of pace from the calm Lady Macbeth to very fast, quickly spoken words of Macbeth.
“Who’s there? What ho?” (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 8)
This gives the feeling of tension and alters the audience’s attention to Macbeth who is seen with the two daggers. In the previous scene, Macbeth had hallucinations about a dagger dripping with blood and had guided Macbeth to Duncan, indicating that the murder was going to take place. The last time the audience had seen Macbeth, he was a good man who was honourable but now, in the short space of time, he had changed, and committed two crimes, murder and treason. This is the downfall of Macbeth and from here he has to make sure that his place of king is secure.
Throughout this scene, Lady Macbeth remains calm and tries to prevent her husband to react in a panicked manner to what he has done. She dominates the scene and takes control of the situation. Lady Macbeth has, like Macbeth, has changed since the beginning of the play. From the moment she finds out that Macbeth has the chance to become king, she becomes obsessed by the idea. She not only immediately believes everything that the witches had said, but also appeals to the evil spirits to help her become less feeling in order for to take the actions that she needed.
“…Unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe topfull
Of direst cruelty…” (Act 1, Scene 5, Lines 39-41)
Lady Macbeth then fears that Macbeth could not go through with the murder and had returned without any chance of becoming king. The fears of Lady Macbeth are shown from the moment that she finds out about the predictions given by the three weird sisters. At first, the fear was that Macbeth was too kind hearted to go through with the murder.
“Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised; yet do I fear thy nature,
It is too full o’th’milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way.” (Act 1, Scene 5)
At first Macbeth does not refuse to take any action towards taking the ‘fastest root’ to becoming king but later, when he refuses, Lady Macbeth uses the power that she gained from the evil spirits, to force Macbeth into going through with the plans.
The fear of Macbeth’s kindness is represented in Act 2, Scene 2 when the first thing that Lady Macbeth says is doubtful to the success of Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is very concerned that Macbeth’s attempt to kill Duncan could not be completed because they were on the verge of discovery.
“Alack, I am afraid they have awaked,
And ’tis not done; th’attempt and not the deed…” (Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 9-10)
There is obviously a lack of confidence in Macbeth by his wife. Despite this, Lady Macbeth admits that she couldn’t have done it herself because of the likeness of Duncan to her Father. This could have just been cause by the fact that he was a good king and that he was kind to the family and towards Lady Macbeth.
Macbeth then tells Lady Macbeth that he had ‘done the deed’ and asks if Lady Macbeth had heard a noise. Throughout the scene there is a panic and you can feel the tension between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth as they check that there is no possibility that there was a chance of discovery.
Immediately, Macbeth regrets what he has done, wishing that he could change what he has done.
“This is a sorry sight.” (Act 2, Scene 3, Line 23)
Lady Macbeth then takes control of the situation and tells Macbeth that he is ‘foolish’ for saying that it was a sorry sight. In this scene, there seems to be an acceptance of what they have done by Lady Macbeth. It is almost the attitude of ‘what’s done is done and there’s no turning back’ where as Macbeth is already looking at the act with Hindsight.
Macbeth then tells his wife a story of how when he killed Duncan he saw two men who blessed him and how he could not say ‘Amen’ even though he needed blessing and how the men had said that Macbeth would not sleep again because he murdered sleep. This obsession of being unable to say holy words is due to the murder and to represent the severity of the crime and how even God would never forgive him.
“One cried ‘God bless us!’ and ‘Amen’ the other,
As they had seen me with these hangman’s hands.
List’ning their fear, I could not say ‘Amen’
When they did say ‘God bless us.'” Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 29-32
The murder is depicted over the next minute of the play. Even when Macbeth describes the images he saw, he describes his hands as being ‘hangman’s hands’. Hangmen would disembowel bodies, proving to be a very bloody and horrendous sight. Later, he says that he could not even look back to back to the room of the murder. This could be because of how brutal the murder was or it could be that he could not accept what he had done.
The idea that Macbeth will never sleep again is true for Macbeth and for Lady Macbeth as Macbeth is unable to sleep for the thoughts of what he has done, and Lady Macbeth can not find peace in sleep as she slowly loses her sanity and begins sleepwalking.
At this point, Lady Macbeth seems very soothing and the calmest of the couple. The panic demonstrated by Macbeth is the weakness that Lady Macbeth was saying about in Act 1, Scene 5.
“These deeds must not be thought
After these ways; so it will make us mad.” (Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 36-37)
This is ironic because although Lady Macbeth seems like the one who is the calmest out of the two now and seems to be in control, she eventually goes mad where as Macbeth who did talk about what he felt and thought, remained sane. She then realises that Macbeth had taken the daggers from the murder scene and instantly realises that the daggers act as incriminating evidence. She then orders Macbeth to smear the blood on the daggers onto the clothes of the grooms. This shows that Lady Macbeth continued to think in a cold blooded and logical way.
However, Macbeth says that he is unable to return to the body of Duncan because he says that “[he] is afraid to thing what [he] has done.” Lady Macbeth then once again takes control and takes the daggers herself. She believes that Macbeth was weakening himself by talking about their position in such a negative manner and seems to dismiss the severity of what they have done saying that he is acting childishly because the dead cannot harm them.
“The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures; ’tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil.” Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 56-58
Lady Macbeth says what she will do and why she is doing it so that the audience knows what is going on off stage.
“I’ll gild the faces of the grooms withal,
For it must seem their guilt.” Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 58-60
This shows the determination of Lady Macbeth and how throughout the panic and madness, she is still able to work in a controlled and calculated manner.
Whilst Macbeth is gone, the stage directions say that there is a knock within. The audience may have seen this as the hand of fate or Satan the calling Macbeth to
account for his crimes. The following scene echoes this with the porter going to answer the door and pretending to be the keeper of Hell Gate.
“Here’s a knocking indeed: if a man were porter of hell-
gate, he should have old turning the key. (Knock) Knock, knock,
knock.” (Act 2, Scene 3)
Macbeth then says a series of questions and statements that answer the questions he asks. The questions that he asks are each answered with a negative response. The last question he asks is if all of Neptune’s ocean could clear the blood from his hands. As well as the knocking which happened previously and the link that had with the devil, this is religiously significant. This is because the washing of hands is not only washing them literally from the blood, but also cleansing him from the sin he had committed like the biblical washing of hands when Pontius Pilot washed his hands of Jesus.
Macbeth’s response to this question is negative and he says that a whole ocean could not clean his hands and that even with all that water, the water would still turn to the deep red colour of blood.
“No: this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.” (Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 64-66)
During the scene, Lady Macbeth seems to have been more dominant and the one who thinks logically and the one who speaks calmly. The return of Lady Macbeth shows her strength of character as she says how she would be ashamed if she was acting so cowardly. This would shock the audience to see that the woman was acting so strongly compared to the man.
“My hands are of your colour, but I shame
To wear a heart so white.” (Act 2, Scene 2, Lines 77-78)
She then tells Macbeth how easy it is to clear them from the crime by using a little water to clear the blood. This is contrary to what Macbeth said earlier. Although at present Lady Macbeth seems to be in control, later in the play, there is a sleepwalking scene where she franticly tries to wash her hands saying,
“What, will these hands ne’er be clean?” (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 37)
After this, the two are disturbed by the knocking and go to bed for fear that they might be found out. Macbeth closes the scene by saying, “Wake Duncan with thy knocking: I would thou couldst.” Showing an obvious sign of regret for what he has done. This later changes though as his character becomes more violent and ruthless as he kills more and more people to secure his position as king.
The unnatural element of the play is not only found with the appearance of the witches, but also the elements surrounding Duncan’s Death. The scene directly before the murder of Duncan begins with Banquo and Fleance talking about how unnaturally dark the skies are and that there are not even any stars.
“There’s husbandry in heaven,
Their candles are all out.” (Act 2, Scene1, Lines 4-5)
This shows how even the before the murder has taken place, there is a dark atmosphere with many dark shadows. The idea of there being no stars links in with Act 1, Scene 4 when Macbeth appeals to the spirits to make the skies dark so that the murder of Duncan can take place in complete secrecy.
“Stars hide your fires,
Let not light see my black and deep desires,” (Act 1, Scene 4)
Macbeth’s ‘black and deep desires’ are also echoed in the idea of there being no light and the link with darkness and evil.
Shortly before the murder of Duncan has been discovered, Lennox says how during the night, there were sounds of screams and strange, terrible events occurring which the audience is led to believe occurred during the time when Macbeth killed Duncan.
“Lamentings heard i’th’air, strange screams of death
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion and confused events,
New hatched to th’woeful time.” (Act 2, Scene 3, Lines 48-51)
These unnatural occurrences happen because of the belief of the Elizabethan audience that the king is chosen by God. The death of the king goes against the natural running order of things breaking the status quo is destroyed.
Shakespeare’s use of dramatic effect is obviously very cleverly planned out so that links can be made between scenes as well as it having the capability to grasp your attention. He manages to use many dramatic conventions that are still used in modern plays of today such as soliloquies by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth of the thoughts in their heads. A well as combining a number of different effects, there is also a use of deception, making the audience believe that they saw the death of Duncan. These melt together to form a piece of drama that is very unique and one that not only entertains the audience of Shakespeare’s day without offending the king, but also one that can still entertain today.