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What use does Shakespeare make of contrast in 'Macbeth'?

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Introduction

What use does Shakespeare make of contrast in 'Macbeth'? The whole of 'Macbeth' is based on the continuing fight of good against evil and contrast explores all distinctive features of this universal struggle. Two important aspects of historical context which are explored and exploited by Shakespeare through his use of contrasts are the Elizabethan belief in the supernatural and the evil of the witches, and the accession of James I and the contemporary belief in the Divine Right of Kings. This would have made the events of 'Macbeth' more relevant to the Elizabethan audience. The many different contrasts used in the play can be placed into three main categories: themes, language and imagery, characters, and the structure Shakespeare purposefully uses. One of Shakespeare's main themes in 'Macbeth' is the contrast between appearance and reality. Shakespeare introduces this theme using the witches in Act One Scene 1 through their refrain: Fair is foul, and foul is fair He does this so the audience will immediately link the witches with his exploration of deceit and evil and they are simultaneously alerted to the deceptive nature of appearances in the play. There are many developments of this contrast and they are all linked into how deceptive people and appearances can be once they have aligned themselves with evil. In Act one Scene 2 the audience finds out that the Thane of Cawdor, one of King Duncan's thanes, is actually a traitor just pretending to be a friend. Shakespeare gives Macbeth his title to add to the effect of later events in the play when Macbeth meets the witches and to link him with becoming a traitor. Through Duncan believing that the Thane of Cawdor was loyal to him Shakespeare reminds the audience of how difficult it is to judge a person just by what they appear to be: There's no art To find the mind's construction in the face. ...read more.

Middle

He shows he is not as gullible as Duncan is by his wariness of Macduff. Malcolm has a bigger understanding of the world and how good and evil can look exactly the same. He questions Macduff to decide whether he can be trusted and realises that 'Though all things are foul would wear the brows of grace. Yet grace must still look so.' It is clear that Malcolm has all the qualities needed to rule a country: At no time broke my faith, would not betray The devil to his fellow, and delight No less in truth than life. He handled Macduff's visit very wisely proving he would be a good king and he recognises that with kingship comes responsibilities to serve his country and its people. Malcolm and Macbeth (a rightful king and a usurper) are contrasted, Macbeth being the 'disease of Scotland' and Malcolm being the 'medicine to cure the sick land.' When Malcolm is testing Macduff he thinks qualities that would make him unfit to rule which are obviously the opposite of his character. He recognises Macbeth's evil qualities as 'bloody, luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful, sudden, malicious.' In Act five Scene 2 the audience find out that, for Malcolm's sake, people are prepared 'pour we, in our country's purge, Each drop of us.' This is a symbol of loyalty to him and Scotland. Shakespeare describes Malcolm as 'the sovereign flower' watered by the blood of the devoted but Macbeth and his followers are described as 'the weeds' drowned by it. Malcolm shows that he will be a better king than Macbeth at the end of Act five Scene 9 when he tells Scotland he will reward the people who helped their country because they deserved it, not just because they did something good for him. He also says he is going to go about his duties in an orderly fashion 'in measure, time and place,' unlike Macbeth who went on mad rampages, and with help of 'the grace of Grace.' ...read more.

Conclusion

In this scene Lady Macbeth also 'has a light by her continually' suggesting that she desperately wants good back into her. From this the audience realise that Malcolm's description of her as a 'fiend-like queen' at the end of the play is not the whole truth. Shakespeare uses this contrast in Lady Macbeth to explore elements of humanity such as how people don't just have one true side, and to demonstrate what the supernatural can do to a mind and the way guilt can affect people. Many structural contrasts are used throughout 'Macbeth' to maintain interest in the audience, heighten suspense and highlight themes. Shakespeare juxtaposes some scenes with others purposely to make certain things stand out or to relieve the tension of the play. When Duncan arrives at Macbeth's castle, in Act one Scene 6, the audience realise the irony and contrast in what is said in this scene as it is straight after the scene with the planning of the murder in. This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself Unto our gentle senses. This makes the Macbeths seem more evil as Duncan appears innocent and oblivious to anything that the audience knows is about to happen. The start of Act two Scene 3, the Porter's scene, is a contrast to the previous and following scenes. Shakespeare puts this in to relieve the audience from the increasing tension with humour. However, when dropping the tension for a while amongst the audience, Shakespeare still includes the main theme of evil and deceit even though the tone is different. Shakespeare's use of contrast in 'Macbeth' is his pivotal way of exploring characters and themes. However 'Macbeth' is not only an exploration of these, it is very successful as an actual play on the stage. Although the play was written for a 17th century audience and appealed to them covering many aspects of historical context, 500 years on modern audiences are still interested in the different aspects of 'Macbeth' and can see it has lost none of its impact. Ruth Whitford 1 ...read more.

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