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Respond to Act 2 Scene 2 of Macbeth in the Following Ways

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  • Category: Macbeth

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* Explore the ways in which Shakespeare creates tension in this scene.

* Compare the ways in which a modern audience would respond to this scene with how you think Shakespeare’s contemporary audience would have responded.

* Discuss how you would direct the scene to bring out its dramatic qualities.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth was written in 1605 and first performed in 1606, in front of King James I (James IV of Scotland) at Hampton Court, London, three years after he ascended to the throne following the death of Elizabeth I.

Like Elizabeth, James was deeply interested in witchcraft and published a book in 1597 called Demonology which may have influenced Shakespeare. Shakespeare often found inspiration in historical sources for his plays. Shakespeare had used Raphael Holinshed’s account of Scottish history in his Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland published in 1557. However, in turn Holinshed based his account on earlier sources. The plot of Macbeth was firstly mentioned in Scotichronicon by John of Fordun in the fourteenth century.

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth Duncan is portrayed as a noble and honest man and Macbeth as a tyrant. This is where Shakespeare has changed the original source because in reality Macbeth was a good king who brought peace to the country and Duncan was weak. Changes of the sources however could be seen as a way of catering to the beliefs of the reigning monarch, James.

Also, I think Macbeth could have been influenced by the gunpowder plot which was unraveling whilst Shakespeare was writing the play. As Guy Fawkes, amongst other people had plotted against the monarchy of England, Macbeth and his wife were plotting to seize the throne in Scotland. Also, because of this, Shakespeare intended to put a very strong message across about the murder of kings and the consequences of committing the wicked crime within his story of Macbeth.

The enduring story of Macbeth is set in the heart of Scotland in the eleventh century and Scotland at that time was a violent and troubled country, “feuding families or clans fought in order to control territory; castles were the centre of each rival Thane’s power, and political murder and revenge killings were not unusual methods to gain power” (www.rsc.org.uk). Macbeth had fought his way up the ranks of the army to become one of Duncan’s most trusted Thanes, but an encounter with three witches puts wickedness into the heart of an otherwise noble and loyal man.

In Act 2 Scene 2 there are lots of ways in which Shakespeare creates tension. The scene begins with Lady Macbeth speaking a soliloquy; she is telling her audience “that which hath made them drunk hath made me bold”. She means the alcohol she has drunk has given her more courage. This also seems to have calmed her down because she has the ability to try and calm Macbeth down who is extremely flustered and worried about the crime he has just acted out.

I think Shakespeare gave Lady Macbeth this soliloquy so the audience could connect with her and get a better concept of what she is feeling, and this is essential if the audience is to experience her tension and anxiety. In this particular scene I think Lady Macbeth is trying to block out the fact Macbeth has murdered Duncan, and Macbeth appears to find it impossible to do so. I also think Macbeth is easily influenced by his wife: Lady Macbeth seems to have prepared everything, she has organized everything for the murder; she says “I laid their daggers ready… Had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t” and also drugs the guards for Macbeth. After she has said this, Macbeth enters. Their conversation turns to an almost staccato effect:

Macbeth: I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?

Lady Macbeth: I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry. Did not you speak?

Macbeth: When?

Lady Macbeth: Now.

Macbeth: As I descended?

Lady Macbeth: Ay.

By using this staccato like technique, Shakespeare helps to build up tension and anxiety: by making the actual characters tense it would make Shakespeare’s contemporary audience and a modern audience nervous. Macbeth is feeling very cautious and so is trying to discover if anybody could have heard him.

Just one consequence of killing a king in the eleventh century was that it was seen as a major sin against God. Kings were thought of as appointed by God and so if a person committed regicide it was seen as a principal offence regarding the divine right of kings, and a nefarious crime to perform. I think an audience in the 1600s would take this a lot more seriously than an audience of today because I think people then were a lot more religiously involved than people today. Macbeth claims “I could not say ‘Amen,'” and this is probably because he feels he has wronged his god and closed down communication with him because of that. I think this is one way Shakespeare conveyed his views and thoughts about the consequences of killing a king, he also created tension within his contemporary audience by showing the consequences Macbeth suffers since he committed his crime. Lady Macbeth nevertheless acts dismissively and replies “consider it not so deeply,” this is an example of her trying to forget about the act Macbeth has executed.

Despite the fact that in the beginning of their conversation, in the beginning of the scene Lady Macbeth is trying to act uninterested, with Macbeth opening his inner most feelings up to her, she appears to break down and begins to speak more. I think she is just as scared as Macbeth is and so tries to hide that with being maybe a little inconsiderate. Lady Macbeth also tries to hide it by drinking at the beginning of the scene. She is trying to hang on. She tries to strengthen her husband but Macbeth states he will go no more. He cannot face what he has done alone. I feel that Shakespeare has made Lady Macbeth a stronger character than Macbeth and she has the strength to help her husband when he weakens, usually in a harsh way. People may believe that because Lady Macbeth is a determined character she is just as much liable to blame as Macbeth, as she appears to be the power behind him. I think the two different views and feelings of Macbeth and his lady would create anxiety and apprehension within the audience. Macbeth is trying to tell his wife that he is scared and cannot face what he has done when he says “I’ll go no more. I am afraid to think what I have done. Look on’t again I dare not.” Lady Macbeth merely replies “Infirm of purpose!” She is unjustly calling him weak.

Another dramatic device created by Shakespeare in this scene is the knocking heard from within. This builds up tension in the audience. I think a modern audience and a Jacobean audience would react to this technique differently. I think a Jacobean audience would find it more chilling and unsettling and a modern audience of today wouldn’t read as much in to it. I think this because an audience of today has been introduced to a lot more frightening films, plays, dramatic effects and special effects so they take a lot more to be scared.

Shakespeare’s use of language gradually builds up the tension between Macbeth and his wife, and his use of dramatic irony would have an audience of any time on the edge of their seats. Also, his incorporation of the supernatural would have especially had the contemporary Shakespeare audience anxious and worried as the majority of the Jacobean public was extremely interested in the supernatural, so just using that created dramatic tension in the first days of the play. I do not think, however, that the use of witchcraft and the supernatural would have the same chilling effect on a modern audience because there have been a lot more plays and films including this subject since Macbeth so the audience may be found immune.

If I were directing Act 2 Scene 2, I think I would make Lady Macbeth’s body language very strong and defined, especially towards her husband: he has just committed regicide and is now obsessed with thoughts of damnation; Lady Macbeth thinks he is a weakling but is trying to strengthen him. Obviously, if she is not strong herself this would prove to be impossible. Shakespeare has made Lady Macbeth just as frightened as her husband. When Macbeth returns after performing the murder I would have him acting very cautious, perhaps have him standing in a corner or sitting wearily against a wall. I would have Lady Macbeth pacing the stage, making dramatic hand movements. I would make it obvious they are both anxious by doing this. Also, at the beginning of the scene, when Lady Macbeth is by herself, I would have her briskly pacing the stage, making theatrical hand movements also. I would also have her sitting at different levels and in different positions to give this bit of the scene a bit of variety. She is confused and very nearly going out of her mind. On line 30, Lady Macbeth claims “These deeds must not be thought after these ways; so it will make us mad”. This foreshadows the fact Lady Macbeth becomes mad.

When Lady Macbeth sees the blood of her king though, she suddenly feels the guilt a lot more and when she has the blood on her own hand she begins to realize the reality of it, but doesn’t want to display these feeling at all. The text suggests this when she says to Macbeth, “My hands are of your colour; but I shame to wear a heart so white.” Again, this is showing Lady Macbeth thinks her husband is weak. I would have the actress playing Lady Macbeth acting very scared and hopeless, but because Lady Macbeth does not want to show as much emotion and weakness as Macbeth does when he breaks down, I would have her quickly get over it, showing this with the tone of her voice. I would also have her taking brisk and big paces across the stage and make it obvious that her and her husband grow apart at this event.

I think Shakespeare uses very good dramatic tension techniques as most of them succeed in creating suspense and tension in every audience up to the current day, and I believe that is one of the main factors which add up to make him the successful and almost legendary playwright he is today.

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