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How is your understanding of the banqueting scene (Act III Scene 4) enhanced by the knowledge about the play's Jacobean context?

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Introduction

How is your understanding of the banqueting scene (Act III Scene 4) enhanced by the knowledge about the play's Jacobean context? Macbeth is very much a play of its time but it is still relevant today. It was written in the very early years of King James I. Macbeth is not difficult to watch even out of context but there are many scenes (For example the Banquet scene: Act III Scene 4) which are written within the context of Jacobean, in which a contemporary audience would have been able to pick up subtle hints and details. However, in the 21st Century, we live in a much-changed world but we can still enjoy the play today without knowledge of the Jacobean context. However, to fully understand the play, we need a basic knowledge of the Jacobean context it was written in. Within the whole play, there is a contrast of order against chaos. The medieval hierarchy is one such example of order. At the beginning of the banquet scene, Macbeth makes this explicit: You know your own degrees, sit down. This shows the formality of this, a state occasion because people are seated according to their 'degree' (position in society). At the time that the play was written, the hierarchy in Britain was changing. The 'feudal' system had virtually ended and there were the beginnings of a 'middle class' of merchants and other businessmen. ...read more.

Middle

When the first murderer enters the banquet hall, Macbeth's attention immediately turns to him. He becomes less concerned with his country's nobles but is more interested in the murderer, a lowlife- whom he employed to carry out his evil deeds. His tone quickly changes from hospitable to his guests: Be large in mirth. Anon, we'll drink a measure The table round To confrontational and urgent: There's blood upon thy face. Later when Macbeth sees Banquo's ghost and panics, he disrupts things further. Control is restored to a certain extent when Lady Macbeth says, in line 118: I pray you speak not, he grows worse and worse. Question enrages him. At once, good night. But this is only possible by breaking up the order and ceremony of this important occasion and damages the 'spectacle' and permanently damages Macbeth's reputation and standing as in future, the Thanes will have less respect for a 'weak king'. The staging of this important moment in Trevor Nunn's production of Macbeth gave focus to the change: Lay Macbeth was cradling her broken husband, while the departing guests tried to observe a ceremonial ritual of kissing the kings, now-drooping hand. It was the prospect of a long succession of these unfelt and now meaningless gestures that made her shriek: Stand not upon the order of your going, But go at once. However, in other productions, such as Polanski's film version, less emphasis is given to this scene and parts are cut out. ...read more.

Conclusion

The witches are seen to be abnormal and control Macbeth, using their powers to cause moral confusion: Fair is foul, and foul is fair. Shakespeare uses soliloquy to show that the witches have made Macbeth morally confused and hints that he may be considering regicide: That is a step On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap, For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires, Let not light see my black and deep desires; This shows Macbeth privately plotting to realise his 'deep desires'. Even though it doesn't speak, Banquo's ghost has a profound effect on Macbeth and leaves him 'quite unmanned'. The witches are used by Shakespeare to imply and foreshadow what will occur in the future. A Jacobean audience would have firmly believed in ghosts, witches and other supernatural beings and there were regular witch trials. James I was a great believer in witches and wrote a book on demonology references to witches may have been to please King James but this would not seem to be a major reason as James' life had been threatened by a group of witches in 1591. In a production of the play for King James, it is reported that in the apparition which showed a line of seven kings all resembling Banquo, the one at the end who was carrying a mirror, pointed the mirror at James I so that he could see himself because, according to Holinshed's Chronicles of England, Ireland and Scotland, James I was a direct descendant of Banquo. ...read more.

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