‘Macbeth’ – thrilling, shocking, exciting, frightening. It would be difficult to find a
play more dramatic! Murder, war, witches, hallucinations, ghosts, sleep walking and even a touch of humour just for balance. The dramatic elements draw us in and compel us to engage with this play on many levels.
The whole play is full of these dramatic elements, but even just examining one scene will provide a wealth of examples.
Take, for example, Act 2 Scene 3 – often referred to as the Porter Scene. What makes this scene compelling and dramatic?
This scene opens to the sound effect of someone incessantly banging on the door and so we are left asking the question Who is arriving at Macbeth’s castle? Dramatic technique – suspense. The Porter trudges across the stage, slowed by the
effects of the previous night’s revelries, thus adding to the suspense.
The next element of drama to be found in this scene is humour – the only humour in an otherwise dark play. The Porter has a very particular type of humour that would have been enjoyed by a Shakespearean audience – bawdy humour. Remember that in an exam, you should follow the structure of Point, Quote, Explain. A humorous
quotation here is the Porter’s description of what alcohol ‘provokes’:
‘Marry, sir, nose-painting, sleep, and urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and it unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance. Therefore much drink may be said to be an equivocator with lechery; it makes him, and it mars him; it sets him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him, and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him.’
The humour dissipates quickly, however, with the arrival on stage of Macbeth. Lennox highlights the drama of the fact that nature has already gone into turmoil, flux and chaos:
‘The night has been unruly: where we lay,
Our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say,
Lamentings heard i’ the air; strange screams of death,
And prophesying with accents terrible
Of dire combustion and confus’d events
New hatch’d to the woeful time. The obscure bird
Clamour’d the livelong night: some say the earth
Was feverous and did shake.’
This is an example of pathetic fallacy – the weather / natural world reflects events that occur in the play. How dramatic is it when ‘strange screams of death’ can be heard on the wind at night?
Perhaps the most dramatic moment comes with Macduff’s discovery of Duncan’s body. He is so appalled by this abhorrent act that he cannot even form the words to describe what he has just seen:
‘O horror! Horror! Horror! Tongue nor heart
Cannot conceive nor name thee.’
He goes on to say:
‘Confusion now hath made his masterpiece!
Most sacrilegious murder hath broke ope
The Lord’s anointed temple, and stole thence
The life o’ the building!’
Here we can see how the murder of Duncan is not just a crime against man but also a crime against God. It will have catastrophic effects. The drama of this scene is enhanced when Macduff says:
‘Approach the chamber, and destroy your sight
With a new Gorgon: do not bid me speak;
See, and then speak yourselves.’
The scene continues with dramatic irony – Lady Macbeth, who only moments earlier washed the blood of Duncan from her hands, now must ‘look like the innocent flower’. Both she and Macbeth must feign shock, sorrow and moral outrage. Macbeth commits two further murders and asks:
‘who could refrain,
That had a heart to love, and in that heart
Courage to make his love known?’
The lady even goes so far as to faint! Is this for the sake of appearance or has she begun to feel regret for her actions? That is left up to the audience to decide. However, there is no ambiguity in the fact that this is yet another dramatic moment in this highly dramatic scene.
The scene ends with the dramatic exit of Malcolm and Donalbain – they furtively discuss together what their best option is and they agree that it is to run. They know that no one is to be trusted because ‘There’s daggers in men’s smiles’. There is no safety for them in Scotland.