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How Does Shakespeare Create Tension and Atmosphere In the Play?

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  • Category: Play

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Shakespeare creates atmosphere and tension in a number of ways. Throughout the essay I will cover the main ways in which he does this in MacBeth. As it is a play, a lot of the dramatic action relies on the quality and opinions of the actors and how they portray the character or a particular scene, as even the slightest raising of the voice would command the audiences attention as would a sudden movement or a gap of silence. A lot of the same things rely on the director, and how he has chosen to portray scenes and organise costume and scenery. Although this is all very important the main way the tone of a scene is set is through the language used.

Immediately from the opening scene of the play the mood is set. The witches, accompanied by the pathetic fallacy of thunder, which follows them throughout the play, give the audience a good idea of what sort of play it is going to be. In the time of Shakespeare, witches were looked on as very evil and many were tortured and killed, so this was no way to introduce a romantic comedy!

The idea of a pathetic fallacy continues through the play. This is done to reflect the actions of the play into a back drop of the same, increasing the mood of the play, for example, every time the witches enter, there is thunder. When the old man is talking about the unnatural occurrences, the weather is bad. Act 3 Scene…..

Another way Shakespeare commands the audience and keeps the tension is through dramatic irony. Several times throughout Macbeth, Shakespeare uses ironic circumstances to make the audience take notice for example in Act Scene Duncan remarks on the castles’ pleasant seat, the audience know that this castle is to be his place of death. By making it seem that that audience know something that the characters don’t it keeps them on the edge of their seat, drawing them into the story and making them want to know what is going to happen. This is again illustrated in Lennox’s speech when he remarks on how sad MacBeth was a Duncan’s death in his own home

Another type of irony occurs in Act 3 Scene 2 when Macbeth shows is envy of Duncan’s peace in death which shows the turning point from Macbeth’s impressionable but relatively stable mind to his ever increasing instability and introversion.

Association is yet another key factor in Shakespeare’s ability to create atmosphere in his plays, by using particular words the audiences’ minds jump to other presumptions and associate them with similar circumstances, generally in this play the underlying tone of evil. Dark is frequently used to make things seem mysterious and often heinous. Similarly most of the murders in the play are done under the cover of night. Yet another situation which the audience associate with evil. The witches are also very strongly associated to evil and as all the grief and murder in the play stems from their intervention Shakespeare is reiterating their link to evil. This can be scene in Act 1 Scene 1.

Recurring words are used in the same way as association, by repeating certain words Shakespeare draws attention to them, wanting the audience to pick up on them and by doing this he lets them repeat the mood again and again. The words which occur frequently are: blood, sleep, time, fear, night, man, done, snake and hecate. Due to the nature of these words the association which lies with them increases the mood and tone of Macbeth’s situations. Another form of repetition can be seen in Act 5 Scene 1, By repeating other peoples words, Lady Macbeth recalls important instances of the play. In doing this she is reminding the audience of the key moments of murder and evil in the play so far, reliving them through a nightmare.

In another consideration of his audience, Shakespeare compares memorable historic moments to parts of the play, to clarify the exact details and illustrate the point like a simile. Edward the confessor is used in Act 3 Scene 6 to firstly relate the situation to that of a king but as the audience would know a relatively unsuccessful monarch. Similarly Mark Anthony is used in Act 3 Scene 1 to do the same thing.

Throughout Shakespeare’s works he uses rhyme to attract the audiences attention but in Macbeth he uses rhyme for the witches spells this is apparent in all of the witches scenes but Scene 1 Act 4 illustrates the uses of rhyme better than the others, because it is a spell to perform very powerful magic so it’s impact is needed to be great. By using rhyme and a certain beat created by similar syllables, an enchanting magical feels is obtained making the scene seem very supernatural and bewitching.

Rhyme is used in short bursts to draw attention to particular scenes where it is vital for a spectator to watch if he is to understand the play fully. This can be scene at Act Scene

Rhythm is used similarly to make a persons speech seem panicked or hurried. Short sharp syllables coupled with harsh sounding consonants create a worried or rude approach to someone whereas long vowel sounds and soft consonants with a rolling rhythm creates a seductive or loving tome, this is shown when Lady Macbeth is cajoling her husband into killing Duncan in Act Scene

The way in which relationships create mood in the play is by the reactions between the characters. Lady Macbeth’s influence over her husband in the beginning creates a tension which makes the audience eager for MacBeth to go against her wishes, and as they grow apart tension between them is created as Lady Macbeth wants to know what her husband is doing, and he increasingly shuts her out. Elizabethan audiences would have found Lady MacBeths dominance over her husband strange, and when she questions his manliness in Act 3 scene 5, they would be curios to his reaction.

Another instance of relationships, creating dramatic tension, is when MacBeth has decided to kill Banquo, before he leaves, to be killed by the hit-men, the sycophantic actions of MacBeth and his wife would turn the audience against the MacBeths further.

All of these factors contribute to the tension and atmosphere of the play, making the play far more interesting and exiting to watch and giving insight into characters and a depth to the play.

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