Darkness Within The Scottish Play English Literature Essay


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The Tragedy of Macbeth, better known by men of theatre as the Scottish Play is bizarre in terms of storyline but is nevertheless a classic of the renowned William Shakespeare. Repeated symbolism is a central portion of the work yet one of the most prominent and curious is the use of light and darkness yet most references pertain to the latter (with the light assisting in the portrayal of darkness).

The play called Macbeth centers on the rise and fall of the character that the tragedy is named after. Macbeth rises to greatness and proves himself to be a respectable man and a fierce warrior. As the play goes on, starting with the prophecies of the witches, the honorable Macbeth becomes king and a conjurer of the darkness only to meet his demise due to excessive arrogance and paranoia. The summoning of darkness serves as a mirror for the fall of Macbeth and his descent to the depths of hell and the element in general heightens drama while lowering the mood; alternatively torches and paleness within Macbeth convey the light yet amplify the purpose of darkness.

Many of the quotes found throughout the course of the work seem to produce a sense of "black magic" and conjuring of the dark. To give an illustration one can look at the following statement of Lady Macbeth: "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" (I, v, 50-53). The Lady's husband does the same by asking the darkness to conceal his wants by saying, "Stars, hide your fires; let not light see my black and deep desires" (I, iv, 50-51). Even the witches seem to call upon it when showing Macbeth of what was to come but however this is not as explicitly stated but still a concrete assumption considering the back-story of witchcraft.

Throughout the course of Macbeth it is evident that these "summoning" are not the only cases of dark objects existing but also the image of the evil and immoral in characters such with the Macbeths occurs. Starting from the very beginning the revelations of the "weird sisters" a trend becomes produced that leads Lady Macbeth to turn to evil and be persuasive as to fulfill the role of convincing Macbeth to kill Duncan, a king respected and kind. The noble man falls prey to the dark and takes the throne for himself then becomes a tyrant that kills the natural order of Scotland. Macbeth becomes paranoid and orders his close friend killed followed by the soulless killing of Macduff's family, as he perceived the thane to be a threat as well as he did with Banquo. Even the witches refer to Macbeth as evil when the Second states, "by the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes: open, locks, whoever knocks!" (IV, i, 44-47) and in specific times in the play others note his wickedness, perceiving him as foul. In Act V, Scene 7, lines 5 to 11 there is a dialogue between Young Siward and Macbeth in which the solider feared even saying the tyrant's name as he felt that the devil could not say a "more hateful title" and he responded by saying, "no, none more fearful" in reference to his name.

The light does not truly take center-stage in the play as it would contradict the mood of the play except when used of the context of heightening the drama within. As a result the only light that is worth mention is chiefly of torch-lights within darkness and paleness. Torches appear in the play and take a role as the night is used to portray a more dramatic turn in the play to emphasize the more gloomy parts and paleness plays a similar role. For instance shortly before Macbeth murdered King Duncan, Banquo makes the remark, "There's husbandry in heaven. Their candles are all out" (II, I, 4-5), possibly alluding to the sinister air that is brewing within the tragedy. Something similar occurs later when the First Murderer states, "The west yet glimmers with some streaks of day" (III, iii, 5) before he and his comrades kill Banquo and by the time the man is murdered night had already descended. Clearly light is not portrayed in one fashion but also in the matter of blanching of the skin. Paleness plays the role of portraying fear, greatly evidenced when Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo, causing him to state, "Come, seeling night, scarf up the tender of pitiful day, and with thy bloody and invisible hand cancel and tear to pieces that great bond which keeps me pale" (III, ii, 46-50)! The question then becomes what other purpose does it play, answered by saying that it elevates the suspense and gloom within the Scottish Play, giving an element of horror.

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's most remembered works and contains a great degree of symbolism behind it, particularly in reference to shadows and light. Darkness is shown to be the sinister parts of the play and the eviler aspects of humanity: greed, corruption, lack of morals, etc. Its antithesis on the other hand shows the role of fear (paleness) and torches, to produce tension in the work and amplify the significance of darkness elevate the sense of depression occurring. This paper represents a more concise and clear interpretation of the above motif but clearly cannot reflect the views of many others who have criticized Macbeth; however all statements to explain the significances of the theme within the text can be justified.

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