In this essay I am going to look at the stage and language effects Shakespeare used in Act 2, Scene 2 of Macbeth. This scene is the most brutal of the play and is where Macbeth murders King Duncan. In the previous scene the murder has been planned but Macbeth has been overwrought with feelings of guilt and thoughts of witchcraft. Shakespeare has used great skill to create tension in his seventeenth century audience and now in scene 2 he uses these effects to capture their attention. Will Macbeth have the nerve to carry out the Murder?
To set the murder of King Duncan in the dark of night, I believe sets the atmosphere for the whole scene. The murder of your king as well as a friend in its self is a bad enough thought, but then to use the dark of the night would have immediately puts a sense of evil, wrong doings and unnatural cruelty in to the minds of an Elizabethan. We must remember that the audience of the time would be used to dark and evil stories and rumour of supernatural dealings. So by using this stage effect, Shakespeare was able to engage with their feelings and thoughts.
Then by setting the murder off stage Shakespeare wanted to make the audience use their own imagination to picture the violence, blood and gore of the scene. In the seventeenth century public executions such being hung drawn and quartered were common so the audience would have seen plenty of blood and guts and if they had not experienced it themselves they would have heard plenty of stories and boastings. So to use their own thought to the gruesomeness of this murder would be far worse than he could have created on stage. It would also give a sense of suspense and leave them anticipating if Macbeth had been successful in his dreadful deed. I imagine his audience would at this stage be sat on the edge of their seats feeling the tension of night.
Shakespeare also uses visual and sound effects to help create tension. To see Lady Macbeth pace up and down nervously with anticipation and at the same time hearing her steps, I think was done to intensify the screech owl that followed. Throughout history the night owl was associated with the underworld and through the centuries some western cultures believed that a shriek of an owl meant that someone was going to die, so the sound of the owl shriek would immediately make the scene eerie and give the feeling of doom for the king. Then Lady Macbeth associates it with the fatal bellman, It was the owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman. The fatal bellman being the man that sounds an execution. This emphasize the feeling of anticipation that the act of murder is about to be committed. Here again Shakespeare has used his skills to increase the tension of the scene.
If the audience were not already filled with thoughts of horror and disgust that a king was to be killed by his friend, then they would be when Macbeth was seen holding the blood dripping daggers. They would be left with no doubt he had committed his evil deed. This sight would have sent shock waves through all watching, then as the scene developed it would show Macbeth was confused and lost a sense of reality, for he had not followed the exact plan and now he was putting both himself and Lady Macbeth in a position danger. He had compromised the dastardly deed.
The play now peaks when Lady Macbeth and the new King meet again. Both are filled with emotion as Lady Macbeth anticipates if indeed her husband has succeeded in his quest, and Macbeth himself contemplates what he has done. The short pauses and broken sentences that are used are an excellent way to lead the audience to believe that there are now new issues and all is not as it should be. This made them believe Macbeth was not happy with what he had done and that in fact he was very uneasy with his act and he was starting to question his conscience.
The scene develops with Macbeth now confused, not sure of reality, while Lady Macbeth take the upper hand. Shakespeare enhances this by making her speech clear and precise and while his is now rambling, he is not only confused himself but his wife and the audience alike. He repeats over again his doubts, the torments grows stronger with the realisation of the witches prophesies Still it cried, 'Sleep no more!' to all the house: 'Glamis hath murder'd Sleep, and therefore Cawdor Shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more!'
The loud knocking would have been used to move the tension been created by the conversation of the perpetrators back to the murder its self. Its hard to know if the audience would be on the side of Macbeth and his wife or the side of justice, either way the thought of them being caught created at this stage of the scene would have them back on the edge of their seats. The knocking repeats and at the same time Shakespeare fuels the scene by creating a fear in Macbeth that it is inevitable that he will be caught. He does this by using language effects to show the vastness of the task in hand. Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? This is not only with reference to amount of actual blood and the physical time scare to remove it, it also refers to the psychological effects to Macbeths mind.
The scene ends with Lady Macbeth taking control of the events that are going to unfold. She reassures Macbeth that they are in it together and that it will only take a few simple acts to hide their crime. Macbeth himself still feels the guilt and wishes he could turn back the clock. Shakespeare lets us feel this by making Macbeth compare his thoughts to the Knocking sound effect. To know my deed 'twere best not know myself.34
(then the knocking sound effect)
Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst!
Throughout this scene Shakespeare has used stage and language effects to create tension in his audience. He has draw on their supernatural thoughts and experiences and used both sound and visual effects to open their minds up to the evil deeds been carried out. He has used language effects to show the human emotions of his perpetrators as well as their frailties. Today we see the same effects used to create tension and fear, particularly the thought of supernatural goings on.