How does Shakespeare use language, structure and dramatic devices in Macbeth? Essay
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How does Shakespeare use language structure and dramatic devices to create tension in the play?
Shakespeare uses language, structure and dramatic devices to great effect to create and uphold the dramatic atmosphere throughout both scenes. These two scenes in particular are significant due to the fact that they show the characteristics of Macbeth change from a battle-hardened, honourable and combat-decorated warrior to an emotionally unstable, cowardly individual who is susceptible to other peoples’ coercive measures, namely his wife; Lady Macbeth.
Macbeth seemingly talks to himself to portray the conflict currently raging away in his mind as whether to assassinate the King or not and reasons for and against such an action.
The soliloquy is particularly effective in this manner due to its generic function being to create a better understanding of the thoughts within the subjects head, in this instance; the reluctance of Macbeth to kill Duncan and his reasons for such opinions. A soliloquy also creates a better audience-character bond and increases the emotional attachment felt by the audience for the character.
In the soliloquy we are given several reasons as to why Macbeth is averse to committing regicide; one being his blood-relation with the King and his position as the King’s subject: “First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, Strong both against the deed”, he himself clarifying the two relations to be “strong” reasons against the potential act. Another is his description of such an act metaphorically as digging one’s own grave: “Commends the ingredients of our poison’d chalice To our own lips” foreseeing the potential consequences of his actions as being potentially fatal.
Another justification to affirm his position is his description of King Duncan as a humble and efficient ruler: “Duncan Has very humble in the use of his power has been So confident in his great duty that his virtues Will pray like angels”. Effectively informing the audience that nothing can be gained from his usurping of power other than an increase in Macbeth’s own power.
Lady Macbeth uses aggressive and manipulative language when conversing with Macbeth; this is maintained throughout both scenes to conserve her domineering feature over Macbeth and also uphold her large influential impact on him over making important decisions. The most important extract which clearly proves this point is arguably the defining moment of her character and we begin to see her as a fully-formed 3-dimensional and begin to see her “true colours”: “How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me: I would, while it was smiling in my face, have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums and dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this.”
She is explicitly confronting him for his apparent cowardice due to his hesitant approach to the assassination by telling him that if she promised she would kill their baby (as a hypothesis) she would “dash his brains out” without reluctance ; using guilt as a means to persuade. This shows, more than ever, the vicious and violent side to Lady Macbeth as opposed to the unsure and hesitant Macbeth.
Macbeth concedes to this powerful statement by asking a weak and meaningless question showing the audience that he has already succumbed to her will: “If we should fail?” This is answered by a rhetorical question: “We fail?” and again implying his cowardice by asking him to dig deep for his courage and they will not fail: “But screw your courage to the sticking-place and we’ll not fail.” And then goes on to tell Macbeth of her plan to assassinate the King by offering the King’s guards wine and eventually their memory “will be a wisp of smoke”, “Anything we can’t put off on His officers who are like sponges” and them taking the blame for their “great quell”.
Lady Macbeth also puts his love for her into question as a means to coerce him into carrying out her demands: “From this time Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard To be the same in thine own act and valour?”
Which is a very devious albeit clichï¿½ statement from a female, questioning their partner’s love for them for them to spring into action reassuring them of their love and affection for them.
Act 1 scene 7 would have generated great excitement for the Elizabethan audience at the time due to the gender-reversal of roles between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Social hierarchy put women below men in terms of authority in almost every aspect of every-day life in the 1600s whether they were peasants or nobles they would be deemed inferior and the males, more often than not, took the domineering roles and were deemed superior to their social counterparts. Lady Macbeth is seen to be the exact opposite of a typical Elizabethan woman: she is shown as cunning and cruel, cold and calculating which were all archetypal characteristics of males. This is proven by Macbeth’s reaction to her plan of assassination as he retorts with : “Bring forth men-children only, for thy undaunted mettle should compose Nothing but males.” Indeed confirming that the characteristics possessed by Lady Macbeth were only to be found in men and men only.
This response is in stark contrast to what our response would be as our orthodox perception of the characteristics of individuals are not based solely or majorly on gender and although a stereotypical view may still exist within some in modern-day society it is still not as deeply engrained into our perception of people as it was in the 17th century.
Shakespeare has intentionally left out the murder scene of Duncan for the audience to recreate the scene in their minds as it would be infinitely better represented inside one’s head and would have a better impact rather than the simple shock of a few seconds of seeing blood and gore. This is due to one’s imagination being more able to represent such a scene and will increase the suspense and excitement for the audience.
The conversation between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth is portrayed as tense due to the short replies and questions between the two which help to build and maintain tension: “I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry.
Did you not speak?”
“As I descended?”
This short exchange of words at a time when discussing the murder clearly shows the anxiety in the two characters and also creates an anxious atmosphere within the audience.
From my analysis above I have come to the conclusion that Shakespeare effectively uses language, structure and dramatic devices to maintain the drama where necessary, in this instance the two scenes which are pivotal to the whole play and consequently the most dramatic are filled with such features to maintain drama through unorthodox situations and characters, role reversal and aggressive language to name a few.