Discuss how Shakespeare creates a sense of suspense and dramatic tension in Macbeth

Categories: MacbethShakespeare

Shakespeare wrote Macbeth 400 years ago. The themes of, upset, false appearance and illusion, the riddles are caught up and reflected in the wording of the play to heighten and improve the total impression that Shakespeare gives off. He used dramatic tension in this play to make it more frightening and realistic. He used poetic language and rhyme to create this. It would stay in the audience heads, when it was in rhyme, and stand out as he could not use special effects in the fifteen hundreds, like we can today, so he had to do it through his writing.

Shakespeare’s uses appearance verses reality a lot through The Play Macbeth, to portray Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as being nice and courteous on top, but really be wicked underneath this is brought up a good deal throughout the play.

He would use the super natural and violence instead of special effects. He used the super natural like witches in his plays because people then were very superstitious and believed that witches had great powers.

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When the actors would chant on stage for a spell, the audience might believe something could actually happen which would create tension. If something bad or evil was about to happen it would go dark which is scary and if it suddenly went light the audience would no someone good was coming e.g. Banquo. He would use very short and course language to shock the audience in the right places.

King James was interested in witches, so he wrote something that would appeal to the king.

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Also it was about the murder of the king which James the 1st would of enjoyed, because it shows the consequences of what happen if you dare betray a king and in Shakespearean times it was known as killing someone who was appointed by god. If the king were going to see it then other people would think that it must be good and then go and see it themselves.

The queen before James was Elizabeth the 1st. People felt safe with a strong king or queen. So in Macbeth he shows the importance of kings and queen keeping order and if they were out of order they were punished i.e. death and torture.

In act one scene one, the start of this scene there is thunder and lightning straight away that grabs the audience’s attention. This creates a spooky atmosphere, it will all go dark and they will think something evil is about to happen. Such stirs in the heavens were thought to indicate war in kingdoms and so cause bad weather. The witches then appear which will scare the audience as in Shakespearean times witches were thought to be very powerful and evil. People thought they could communicate with the devil, that they could predict the future, make people ill, kill people from a distance or cause bad weather. They start chanting on stage like in a spell. `Fair is foul and foul is fair`, this means a calling upon evil to overturn ideas off good and bad too confuse the false appearance with the reality. The witches bring up his inner most desires to the surface and offer them to him on a plate. Each word in the quote begins with an F, which Shakespeare does to make it stick in your head so if it ever comes up again you would remember it because it is a rhyming couplet.

In act one scene two, the beginning of this scene a very bloody war had just occurred. There is an injured captain who is being helped to safety by Duncan’s bodyguard. The surrounding would be dead bodies and blood everywhere, which will immediately shock people. The sounds of battle will be in the background that is exciting. They hear about Macbeth before he arrives which adds suspense. `Till he unseamed him from the nave to th`chops and fixed his head upon our battlements`. Macbeth wins the battle. The Thane of Cawdor betrayed Duncan and Macbeth gets his title as a lord, it shows if anyone chooses to betray the king they will get killed. Macbeth is then shown as a very strong person as he had just killed a lot of men. Macbeth does not know he is the Thane of Cawdor yet in this scene.

In Act one scene three, the three witches are talking, again there is thunder as soon as the witches arrive. They ask each other what they have accomplished the first witch says she’s been killing wine the others talk about how nasty they have been and all there conquests. The audience would be appalled by this and that they could be so evil. Macbeth and Banquo arrive and says `so foul and fair a day I have not seen` which uses the same words that the witches had used just before, this then links him to the witches and that he could be evil like them and be capable of killing someone.

The witches look inhuman and disgusting then make three predictions. One that he is the Thane of Glamis, Two that he is going to be the Thane of Cawdor, and Three that he will be King and that Banquo’s children’s children will be future kings. The king has already said that he is the Thane of Cawdor, so now the audience know that the witches can predict the future, this will scare them, and they now think maybe that he will be King. The witches then disappear so the audience thinks that they must be very powerful because they can vanish, that is something very supernatural and strange.

He then later gets honoured Thane of Cawdor. Aside Macbeth says `What can the devil speak true? ` Meaning can the witches really predict the future. Aside means what he is thinking and the only way to do this is if he says it out loud. He cannot believe it came true. The audience then knows Macbeth is thinking evil thoughts, here is some of Shakespeare’s usage of appearance Vs reality.

Banquo is represented in Macbeth as goodness and kindness. Sort of a voice of reason. He then talks to Macbeth about the danger that there could be getting involved with witches and evil. Banquo is also represented by light in the play. If evil is about to happen, when Banquo arrives it will go light as light is thought of as good and darkness as evil.

In Act one scene four Macbeth gets the title if Thane of Cawdor and Duncan is very pleased. The old Thane of Cawdor was a traitor to the king and it was important that the king had someone he trusted like Macbeth who he doesn’t know is very untrustworthy. This is also to show you what would happen if you betrayed the king. `Stars hide your fires! Let not light see my dark and deep desires`, this means he is hoping the dark night will hide his evil thoughts to kill the king. As I said light represents good and dark represents bad. So if the stars were out they would be making light and show his thoughts

In Act One scene, straight from the beginning Lady Macbeth is reading a letter out loud, this is called a soliloquy, and she does this so the audience can hear her. As soon as she has read the letter from Macbeth which told her about what had happened with the witches, and how he was the Thane of Cawdor, she started to think about how herself and Macbeth could kill the king. In those days it was thought as unbelievably evil for a women to have such vile thoughts as they were supposed to be innocent.

She is then concerned that Macbeth is not brave enough to kill the king, the audience are then in suspense over whether he will do it or not. So she then has to make sure that she could make him do it, and that she must make herself have no feelings for other human beings except Macbeth. `Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direct cruelty`, means she is calling down evil spirits and make her evil. `Come to my women’s breast and take my milk for gall` means breast feeding is supposed to be a lovely natural thing for a women to do and is saying instead that she wants to feed evil.

`Come thick night and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, that my keen knife see not the wound it makes, Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark to cry hold, hold`, this is saying she wants the dark to cover up hell and doesn’t want heaven to show her dark thoughts he personifies heaven as a person in this quote. In this play Lady Macbeth is a horrible person, she uses very harsh words that would effect the audience and cause tension. They will think when lady Macbeth is calling upon evil spirits that she must be a truly evil person, as the supernatural was considered to be very dangerous and people took it really seriously. Shakespeare uses very sharp wording in this scene, that would shock an audience of that time.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are going to act nice and kind in front of other people so that no one suspects their evil thoughts. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth will appear nice, but in reality be plotting to kill Duncan. At the end of this scene Lady Macbeth says `To alter favour ever is to fear leave the rest to me`. This adds excitement and suspense as the audience wonders what she is going to do.

In Act One scene Six Lady Macbeth is putting the plan of appearance verses reality into action. King Duncan arrives at the castle where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are kind and hospitable so not to show any hint of their plan.

In Act One scene Seven half of this scene is a soliloquy, often when performing this in a theatre, the stage would be all around the audience, so the actor wouldn’t have to speak so loudly and the audience can see his expressions. Macbeth is feeling guilty about his plans to kill the king. Shakespeare uses this method to show the audience what Macbeth is thinking and to show what Macbeths doubts are about murdering Duncan. The audience will now be wondering if he is going to go through with it, or if he is going to back out, this causes great excitement within the audience. Shakespeare uses this technique every so often in the play to show the audience what is going on inside the characters heads.

Lady Macbeth, after Macbeth has finished his speech, asked why he has left Duncan and the rest of the party. Macbeth goes on to tell her about his doubts, and that he is Duncan’s kinsman and he is supposed to be his host and is supposed to trust him. The audience are now waiting to see what Lady Macbeth will say and if she will back out, there is a lot of suspense in the air. She tells him that if he wants to be king he will have to do any thing to get there `cat I` th` adage`. She then tries a different tactic and says that he is less of a man and a coward if he cannot do this `when you durst do it, then you were a man`.

Lady Macbeth then says she would rather kill her own child and smear its brains on the floor than go back on her word `I have given suck, and know how tender `tis to love the babe that milks me I would while it smiling at my face have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums, and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this`. Shakespeare uses very strong wording to get through to the audience about how violent she is and evil, that a woman could kill her own child in such a way is horrifying. The Audience is then left in suspense till the next scene, wondering whether Macbeth will go through with it, Shakespeare does this as it keeps the audience hooked. At the end of this scene he uses the rhyming couplet to make the end to that dramatic scene stay in the audiences heads.

In Act two scene, from the start there is a lot of tension. Macbeth is very nervous and on edge, he is waiting from the sign from Lady Macbeth to go and kill Duncan. The audience will be on the edge of their seats as they are wondering if they are going to get caught or will they get away with it. Amongst all this, Banquo and Fleance turn up, which is has a big relevance, as Banquo knows what the witches said to Macbeth about being king. Also that Banquo is good and kind, and enters the scene with a torch like he bringing goodness to an evil place by lighting it up `There is husbandry in heaven their, candles are all out`. Banquo means the heaven have not lit up the sky with stars and that there is evil about. The audience now think that Macbeth could get caught by Banquo and there is amazing tension rising.

They then bump into each other. Banquo asks Macbeth why he is still up as the king has gone to bed. Macbeth is now very worried he is terrified he will be caught and is trying to get rid of Banquo as quickly as possible. Banquo then mentions the weird sisters and that he has been having nightmares about them, Macbeth quickly tells him that he will talk about it tomorrow and that he hasn’t really thought about it. In Shakespearean times dreams were thought of as prophesy, the audience then think Macbeth is probably going to get caught. Relief sweeps over Macbeth and the audience who are left wondering whether Macbeth is still going to go through with it, as Banquo leaves and all goes dark.

Macbeth then sees a dagger hovering in the air before him, the audience will not be able to see this, so Shakespeare uses brilliant sentence structure and wording so they can imagine it is there `Is this a dagger I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come let me clutch thee` Macbeth sees this dagger in front of him and he wonders whether it is a sign as the sharp end of the dagger is pointing toward Duncans room.

`Proceeding from the heat oppressed mind` He thinks it could be a sign to do it now, or it may be a trick and if he went in now he would get caught, he wonders if it is something in his imagination because he is stressed. The audience is then scared as a ghostly figure was known as a work of the devil and evil, so they think that Macbeth is in trouble. The theatre will go dark when this happens to show that evil is happening. Shakespeare leaves the audience on the edge of their seats as in the end Macbeth says `The bell invites me. Hear it not Duncan, for it is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell` Which is also a rhyming couplet

In Act two scene two, Macbeth returns covered in blood, which straight away tells the audience that Macbeth has done it, and this creates excitement and tension. The Conversation between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth is very quick and sharp, through most of Macbeth, Shakespeare has used ten syllables where as this particular conversation has very few syllables which shows they are nervous. Shakespeare does this to show the audience, as they may not be able to see their facial expressions. Macbeth had kept hold of the bloody daggers instead of leaving them, this creates suspense as they start to think they will be caught. Also every little sound Macbeth jumps at and is jittery.

The visual effects in this will be Macbeth and Lady Macbeth covered in blood with daggers in there hands, the audience would think it was atrocious that they could be covered in a dead mans blood and not really care.

Macbeth stars to get very paranoid, that he was seen, or will get caught and is feeling implausibly guilty, `Still it cried sleep no more to all the house` Macbeth is hearing voices and is terrified. Lady Macbeth is quite calm about what they have just done, this brings up again how foul she could be not to even feel a little guilty about what she’s done and must be a vicious human being to think like this `you do unbend your noble strength to think such brain sickly things`. The audience might reckon he is going to turn himself in and get excited.

Next there is a knocking at the front door to the castle. This causes outstanding tension the audiences now thinks they are definitely caught and are on the edge of their seats with anticipation. The knocking continues `whence is that knocking? How is’t with me, when every noise appals me? ` The suspense rises, as they are still in their clothes that are covered in blood `My hands are of your colour; but I shame to wear a heart so white. I hear knocking at the south entry. Retire we to our chamber. A little water will clear us of this deed` they quickly go to their chamber to change into their night-clothes. This causes dramatic tension, as they are so close to getting caught. In the end of this scene Macbeth says `Wake Duncan with thy knocking. I would though couldst`, this just adds to the last of Macbeths lie and the audience are left in suspense till the next scene to see whether they get caught.


I conclude that out of all the evidence I have put forward, that Shakespeare’s main dramatic techniques are his language, sentence and word structure that he uses very well throughout the play. This makes it more exciting for the audience, as they did not have special effects then, thus he has to do it through his writing, so the audience can understand and imagine, which he does very effectively in the Acts and scenes that we studied. Him using the supernatural was a really good idea, as that is what appealed to King James and the audience at that period of time. It also scared them and kept them on the edge of their seats. The witches and supernatural in this play make it what it is and is a very important part because most of the suspense and tension is based on that.

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Discuss how Shakespeare creates a sense of suspense and dramatic tension in Macbeth. (2017, Oct 22). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/discuss-how-shakespeare-creates-a-sense-of-suspense-and-dramatic-tension-in-macbeth-essay

Discuss how Shakespeare creates a sense of suspense and dramatic tension in Macbeth

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