Dramatic Technique in Macbeth #
Shakespeare uses a number of clever dramatic devices to keep us engaged in the action of Macbeth. Here are a number of them:
The historical Macbeth ruled for about 16 years yet we get the impression everything happens in about a week. It is this compression of time that creates energy keeping us on edge. The action of the play takes place over nine days. The historical events chronicled in the play actually took place over the period of about eighteen years.
Some of the action is given to us second hand, such as Macbeth’s heroic battle against the forces of Norway. Many others are dramatised in front of us.
The actual assassination of Duncan occurs off stage but we are privy to the inner thoughts and actions of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth during this tense scene.
As comic relief to ease our tension, the murder scene is followed by the lighter Porter’s scene with its bawdy humour.
While Macbeth begins to ramble on in his justification of killing the guards, there is a danger of him giving himself away so Lady Macbeth faints drawing attention away from Macbeth.
We are drawn closer to Macbeth through five soliloquies. Each help us to compare his private self to his public image. It is this juxtaposition that enables us to at first identify with him and later become repelled by what he becomes.
Soliloquies and asides: #
I. iii – Macbeth’s first series of asides:
This supernatural soliciting…
I. vii – Macbeth’s first soliloquy:
If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well…
II. i – Macbeth’s second soliloquy:
Is this a dagger which I see before me…
III. i – Macbeth’s third soliloquy:
To be thus is nothing…
V. v – Macbeth’s final soliloquy:
She should have died hereafter…
His final soliloquy demonstrates a broken man, cynical and dejected by a futile struggle for power, yet there is little evidence of personal loss, rather a general reflection on the human condition.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
to the last syllable of records time;
and all our yesterdays have lighted fools,
the way to dust death.
Out, out brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow,
a poor player that struts and frets his hours upon stage
and then is heard no more.
It is a tale told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
He knows he has been defeated and “his life fallen into the sear, the yellow leaf” and that his legacy irretrievably discredited.
Contrast:- Justification #
Shakespeare’s consummate skill is to present both sides of issues:
First Malcolm lists the characteristics of a bad ruler:
Not in the legions
Of horrid hell can come a devil more damn’d
In evils to top Macbeth.
I grant him bloody,
Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful,
Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin
That has a name: but there’s no bottom, none,
In my voluptuousness:
Later Malcolm lists the quaiities of a good leader
But I have none: the king-becoming graces,
As justice, verity, temperance, stableness,
Bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness,
Devotion, patience, courage, fortitude,
I have no relish of them, but abound
In the division of each several crime,