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Macbeth Act 2, Scene 1~2, How does Shakespeare create dramatic tension in these scenes?

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Introduction

Macbeth Act 2, Scene 1~2 How does Shakespeare create dramatic tension in these scenes? Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare circa 1605, is one of the world's best-known plays. It is a tragedy set in medieval Scotland, based on the true story of a Scottish Thane, the eponymous hero Macbeth, whom is prophesised by three witches to become the Thane of Cawdor and King. When Macbeth is declared Thane of Cawdor, he ponders upon the truth of the witches' words and, along with his wife Lady Macbeth, plot to murder the King Duncan and become ruler of all Scotland. The content of Act 2, scene 1 and 2 are of critical importance to the understanding of Macbeth. These are the scenes which follow the events, thoughts and emotions of all characters involved before, during and after the murder. Before Act 2, Scene 1 begins, Shakespeare gives a rare stage direction ~ "Fleance bearing a torch." This is significant as it is to show the audience that it is night time and therefore is dark. Night time has sinister connotations; it is when crimes take place, so even before the characters speak, there is an uneasy atmosphere and the tone of the scene established. The scene opens with an interrogative from Banquo (a friend and ally of Macbeth)~ "How goes the night, boy?" This interrogative creates a sense of mystery and confusion. From the start it seems as if the characters are uncertain, and the audience is given the feeling that things are slightly out of joint. The atmosphere of uncertainty continues through the former half of the scene. Fleance (son of Banquo) speaks that he has "not heard the clock". The characters are unable to establish the exact time, though the audience can be sure it is later because of the darkness surrounding them. Shakespeare implies to the audience that it is midnight, "she goes down at twelve". ...read more.

Middle

"Fire" also has connotations of hell, which links with the atmosphere of horror and lexis of evil from the previous scene. An atmosphere of panic and tension is created by Shakespeare's use of minor sentences~ "Hark! Peace!" These interjections reveal to the audience that Lady Macbeth's senses are exaggerated; she is on edge and is reacting to sounds that would not usually affect her. The exclamation marks also contribute in giving the audience a clear sense of Lady Macbeth's alarm. Furthermore, the two-syllable line interrupts the iambic pentameter and leaves a pause, adding to the dramatic tension, as if Lady Macbeth is frantically listening out for evidence of Macbeth being caught. This disturbed rhythm continues for much of the following scene. Death, pain and suffering are in essence of the scene. Lady Macbeth compares the owl that "shrieked" to a "fatal bellman". The modifier "fatal" conjures up the idea of death; the verb "shrieked" is also one associated with pain and suffering. The "bellman" links with the ringing of the bell to summon Macbeth to the murder. Shakespeare use of caesura is frequent in Lady Macbeth's soliloquy, thus providing a lack of fluency to the rhythm, already distorted by the interruption in the iambic pentameter, and gives the sense that Lady Macbeth's thoughts and emotions are fragmenting. There is much language of conflict present, such as life or death comparisons~ "live or die", "death or nature" ("nature" is a euphemism for life). These comparisons refer to the guards, whom Lady Macbeth has drugged~ "I have drugged their possets". These guards are the alibis for Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, as their plan totally relies on the guards being framed. Now, Shakespeare reveals to the audience that they are on the borders of life and death. The whole plan is flawed by the possibility that they may die, as it would be unlikely that they would commit suicide at the scene of the crime. ...read more.

Conclusion

Adding to the atmosphere of terror is the lexical set of evil, coming through in Macbeth's tainted and sometimes horrific language. The turmoil of Macbeth's mind also arises once more in Scene two, after the deed is done Macbeth spends time talking at length of the guards 'awakening'. The audience will be aware that this may be an illusion of Macbeth's mind, as previously they were told the guards were on the borders of life and death. In this part, his thoughts are dominated by sleep, shown by the extreme repetition of the word and also various metaphors that convey the properties of sleep. Whilst the murder is taking place, the audience is given a sense of Lady Macbeth's apprehension, panic and frantic thoughts through Shakespeare's frequent use of caesura, minor sentences, interjections and interrogatives, heightening the dramatic tension of the play. The dramatic technique stycomythia, which is put into action when Macbeth returns from committing the deed, also contributes to this feeling of panic and tension. The character Macbeth is portrayed in scene two in a different light. In scene one he seems bloodthirsty and willing to kill, seen in his evil language, but in scene two, Shakespeare begins to portray him sympathetically, as he ready to be redeemed by God for his terrible sin. In comparison, Lady Macbeth is portrayed in oppositely to her husband. She, unlike Macbeth is in control of her emotions, and takes command of the situation, revealed by Shakespeare's use of many imperatives on her part. Her potentially evil mind is brought through by her negative language and feel of no remorse, which links with ideas that she may be the 'Fourth Witch'. Enigmatic and perhaps sinister circumstances close the scene with the knocking of the door, once again adding to the dramatic tension felt by the audience. The knocking can be linked with Macbeth's need for redemption. The sound bothers him greatly; it sends his already disturbed mind into panic and fear. The audience will then be provided with a sense of his punishment, an idea that is in essence of the rest of the play. ...read more.

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