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Macbeth: How does Shakespeare dramatise the murder of Duncan in Act II Scenes (i) and (ii)?

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Introduction

How does Shakespeare dramatise the murder of Duncan in Act II Scenes (i) and (ii)? The murder of King Duncan in the play Macbeth is an important part of the play. It shows the point at which Lady Macbeth and Macbeth begin their downfall, which ultimately ends in their deaths at the end of the play. The first and second scenes in Act Two are important because they are immediately before and just after the murder, so they are where the play is at it's climax, and most tense. Shakespeare dramatises the murder by not only building up the tension before Macbeth commits the murder, but also keeping the pressure up through the next scene during Macbeth and Lady Macbeth's conversation. This idea is explored in detail throughout this essay. Our very first impression of Macbeth in Act One is that he is a character to be wary of, because the witches are the first people to mention him, and witches are associated with evil, so Macbeth is linked in the audience's mind with wickedness. However this idea is pushed to one side as we hear glowing reports on the 'brave', 'worthy' and 'valiant' Macbeth, (Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 16, 24) from King Duncan and the Captain of the Army. It seems Banquo and Macbeth are both very honest and good people before we ever meet them personally. Then when we do see the two for the first time, they meet the witches, who tell them the prophecies which the whole play is based around: 'All hail Macbeth that shalt be King hereafter'. (Act 1, Scene 3, Line 48) We are shown Macbeth's latent desires come to the forefront of his mind; although he is already successful and has more than most could want, hidden ambition and greed becomes apparent as the witches promise his greatest dreams. He seems to be solely focused on the biggest prize - though the first of the witches' prophecies comes true immediately, he is more happy ...read more.

Middle

They show Macbeth knows he will go through with the murder, because he says 'The bell invites me' (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 62) and then he says 'Hear it not Duncan, for it is a knell, that summons thee to heaven or to hell.' (Act 2, Scene 1, Line 63-4). The building up of tension and inevitability is shown very well in the Trevor Nunn version of Macbeth, where Ian McKellen portrays Macbeth preparing for the murder, making him seem absolutely resolute by rolling up a sleeve. This version also takes advantage of different lighting to increase tension; Macbeth is in darkness for most of the scene, stepping forward to the audience to engage them, and as he says 'like a ghost' he steps into an eerie bright light, which can be quite scary and unexpected, because it is as if he appeared out of nowhere. Shakespeare decided not to script or perform the actual murder of Duncan, because that way the audience is left to imagine the murder scene on their own and therefore make it as horrible as they could imagine. Shakespeare also misses out the murder to put more emphasis on Lady Macbeth at the beginning of the next scene and to remind the audience how closely she is involved in the murder. There is no gap in the drama because Scene Two follows on from the last in quick succession and the fact that we see Lady Macbeth, sustains the anxiety and tension because she is already associated in our minds with evil and bad deeds. This is because she spoke to the evil spirits in Act One Scene Five, as well as being instrumental in manipulating Macbeth and persuading him to kill Duncan in the first place. Before Macbeth returns, Lady Macbeth feels triumphant, powerful, and in control. She has done what she wanted, and got the better of men by manipulating them and making them do things for her benefit. ...read more.

Conclusion

The knocking that comes towards the end of the scene succeeds in further racking up the tension. It instils a sense of urgency in the situation, that while Macbeth stands around, waiting for 'occasion [to] call us and show us to be watchers' (Act 2 Scene 2 Line 73-4), for the longer they wait there with the 'filthy witness' (Act 2 Scene 2 Line 50) on their hands, the more likely it is they are going to get caught red-handed. It is a harsh loud and repetitive noise that should bring Macbeth out of his inward turning thoughts, but as it does not it further shows how hard he is taking the stress. It brings out a bit of anxiousness in Lady Macbeth though, as she gets more and more tense as the knocking continues: 'Hark! More knocking' (Act 2 Scene 2 Line 72) Macbeth's final words in this scene show his true emotion that he is feeling after the murder. He says 'To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself' (Act 2 Scene 2 Line 76) which seems as if he is asking for a kind of self-inflicted schizophrenia, so he doesn't have to deal with the sorrow and regret he is feeling. But his very last line, 'Wake Duncan with thy knocking; I would thou couldst.' (Act 2, Scene 2, Line 77) shows his deep sadness, regret and sorrow for what he has done. In conclusion, the murder of King Duncan is dramatised by Shakespeare's decision not to show the murder, instead shifting the focus onto the scenes preceding and following the offstage event, where suspense for the murder is built up in the audience's minds using dark imagery, and emphasis is put on how Macbeth and Lady Macbeth begin to come to terms with what they have done and what lays ahead for them now they have committed this heinous crime. ...read more.

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