Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’ is set in Scotland during the rule of king Duncan. Macbeth has fought his way up the ranks of the army to become one of Duncan’s most trusted Lords. An encounter with three witches puts wickedness into the heart of an otherwise noble and loyal Macbeth. Shakespeare’s brilliant use of dramatic irony, the supernatural, and indecision produce a dramatic tension that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats throughout the play.
In act 1, scene 1, a scene of three witches confronts us. This alone would have created mystery and fright to the audience, setting the scene of the play to come. ‘Macbeth’ was written in a period when there was a high interest in witchcraft and the supernatural. People were confused and scared by the supernatural, so the sight of three witches would have told the audience that the play would be full of evil and lies. This scene is a short opening to the play. It is long enough to awaken curiosity, but not to satisfy it. The mood of the play is set, although the action and the introduction of the leading characters do not start until the next scene.
In act 1, scene 2, we learn about the tough battle which Macbeth and Banquo have fought, and win for the victory for Scotland. Duncun rewards Macbeth for his courage by giving him the title ‘thane of Cawdor’,
“…with his former title greet Macbeth.”
Let us not forget that a ‘most disloyal traitor’ first owned this title.
This scene tells us that Macbeth is thought of as a brave and valiant man because he has killed so many people and won the battle almost single-handedly. The language used is quite horrific and the deaths of Macbeth’s victims are explained in all their gory detail. Th...
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...gers. She then lays them ready for Macbeth. She would have murdered Duncan herself if he had not resembled her father. Macbeth returns having murdered Duncan.
Shakespeare’s use of language and structure manages to create tension right up to the murder of King Duncan. He manages to gradually build it up and then release it a little, and then increase it until finally the act of regicide takes place. His use of dramatic irony, the supernatural and indecision all combine to keep the audience on the edge of their seats throughout these scenes. His use of the right language in the right places helps the characters and the play to become really believable. Throughout the play, the supernatural plays a major role. A wise choice by Shakespeare at the time and it still works today.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1977.
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