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What dramatic effect does Shakespeare aim for in Act 2 Scene 2, and how does he achieve it?

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What dramatic effect does Shakespeare aim for in Act 2 Scene 2, and how does he achieve it? First performed in front of a Royal audience, Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's plays in which a nobleman, namely Macbeth, might have led a normal life, but the tragedy is that he killed the rightful king, and in the end was punished for doing so. A pivotal moment in the play is the murder of the king, Duncan, as it was written at a time when in real life the king, James I, had just survived the Gunpowder Plot, so this would have been at the forefront of the audience's minds, and it is the scene in which the murder has just happened which I shall examine in this essay. This scene is Act 2 Scene 2 and it arguably becomes the most prominent in the play. Thus, the way in which this scene is staged is vital for the play to make sense to an audience and it also needs to provide a link between the surrounding scenes, before and after Duncan's murder. It is sandwiched between Act 2 Scene 1, in which Macbeth's wife goads him to murder the king and Act 2 Scene 3, in which the death is discovered. There is a sandwich where the blood of Act 2 Scene 2 is the filling. A link between these scenes is that in Act 2 Scene 1 Lady Macbeth is what might be described as an "accessory before the fact", because of her exhortations to her husband and after discovering the bloody daggers in his possession, it is she who places them by the guards to suggest their guilt, thereby becoming an "accessory after the fact" by assisting the concealment of the murderer. It increases her evil role and therefore it creates tension as to what will happen. This is Shakespeare's main aim of the scene: to create a tense atmosphere which captures the audience and gives a link between two scenes with great apprehension over Duncan's death. ...read more.


This course of events evokes excitement as to when the deed and the murderer will be discovered, especially with the evidence of the weapons so clearly visible Macbeth's hands. There is the fear that he will be caught with the murder weapons and the repeated knockings at the door heighten the tension and the prospect of discovery. Thus the audience is caught between the sensory experiences of sound and vision. The interruption of the knocking at intervals enhances the atmosphere of suspense and the use of sudden noises, short and jerky sentences, questions and exclamations, all add to the environment in which the plot unfolds, keeping the audience on tenterhooks whilst showing the mounting hysteria of Macbeth and the callousness of his wife. When Macbeth refers to his hands as a "sorry sight", Lady Macbeth repeats these words when she says: "A foolish thought to say a sorry sight." This use of repetition coupled with alliteration by Shakespeare gives emphasis to her words which endeavour to portray him as weak and pathetic by way of contrast with his wife. With regard to theme, there is also much reference to nature and the natural order. This use of pathetic fallacy, the way nature reflects the ongoing events, in Act 2 Scene 2 is very important as it mirrors not only the actions of the characters but also the tension in the scene. To begin with, Lady Macbeth is afraid as she hears a scream in the night. However, this turns out to be just an owl shrieking which at first she thinks is the Duncan's fatal scream when he is being murdered by her husband, but she is it evidently mistaken. Later on in the scene when Macbeth has returned to his wife, they both think they hear a shout and their tension is portrayed and passed on to the audience as they use short, uneasy questions, such as: "Did you not speak?". ...read more.


They would also have blessed themselves at mealtimes after saying grace. Thus Macbeth was unable to perform a simple action and say a few words which for a Jacobean audience would have been a regular part of daily life. The fact that the words stuck in his throat adds to the sense of guilt and creates suspense in the audience as to the likelihood of discovery of the true culprit. At the time when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth in 1606 as well as the time when Macbeth would have been living, around 1050 A.D., murder was a crime which carried the death penalty and executions were carried out in public, turning them into something of a spectator sport. An execution was therefore quite an event and something to be relished by those who went to observe a hanging or beheading, the most common forms of execution. Thus when Macbeth refers to "these hangman's hands", he is not only referring to himself as a murderer, but he is also alluding to the punishment which will follow from the hangman if he is uncovered as the murderer of Duncan. This increases the audience's awareness of impending punishment and heightens the tension in the scene. Whilst there was almost universal attendance at Church in England on Sundays in Jacobean times, there were still many relics of medieval superstition in everyday life. Not the least of these was a fear that some people practised witchcraft which was the work of the devil. Witchcraft was a capital offence and it was known that the hearing of voices in the head was a clear-cut symptom of witchcraft. When Macbeth refers to hearing voices telling him that he will "Sleep no more", one can envisage that the audience of the time would have considered him to be besieged by witchcraft and probably beyond redemption. This would heighten their anxiety as to what might befall him by way of punishment. Witches, after all, were either drowned or burnt alive at the stake. ...read more.

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