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The word atmosphere usually means the air around us. When using the word in the sense of a play it means a certain mood around a certain area at a certain time. Tension usually means emotional or mental stress. Act 2 Sc 2 is the climax of tension that has been built up all the way through Act 1. Act 1 is building up to the murder of Duncan and it is a sinister atmosphere because of the tension and atmosphere in the play as a whole.
In Act 2 Scene 2 Macbeth has killed the king, Duncan. This decision comes after the witches come to him after the battle in Act 1 Sc 3 and give him the prophecy that he will be King. In the Elizabethan era people were rather superstitious and believed that witches and anything to do with the witches were bad news. So to be seeing them in real life – or so they thought – was really bad news. Because of the superstitions of the Elizabethan folk, this tends to be a rather evil sight in their eyes. He is further tempted to kill the King when his wife persuades him to do so. He does this with the help of his wife, who has drugged the King’s guards so as to put them to sleep. Going back to the scene, Macbeth kills the King and is very remorseful for what he has done and his power greedy wife tries to remove any thoughts of remorse from his mind. However, in his hastiness to leave the scene of murder, he forgets to smear blood onto the guards’ daggers but Macbeth didn’t want to go back there so his wife goes and does the deed. Meanwhile, Macbeth is hearing sounds and we would think that he is going mad. This is the beginning of many sounds and visions that Macbeth will see and hear.
At the beginning of Act 2 Sc 2 tension is created as Lady Macbeth is waiting and nervous, so she has taken a drink and that has given her confidence. She says: ‘That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold’. This creates tension because Lady Macbeth is tense and so the audience will also be tense.
In this scene the tension is created by the exclamation of Lady Macbeth when she fears that all has gone wrong. This is when she says: ‘Alack! I am afraid they have waked, and ’tis not done: th’attempt and not the deed¦’ This scene creates a sense of tension and suspense because it creates a feeling as to what the consequences of this failed plan will be if not carried out properly. We get to know all the emotions at this point of the character in the scene, Lady Macbeth.
The atmosphere is also created by the natural sounds of animals in the night. Lady Macbeth says: ‘I heard the owl scream, and the crickets cry¦’ This creates the sort of atmosphere of suspense as if something is about to happen. She is awaiting the arrival of Macbeth, so obviously she’s listening extra hard to try to hear anything going on in Duncan’s room.
The audience would know that this event took place at night, under the cover of darkness. We know this because Lady Macbeth says that she hears the owl scream, and owls only come out at night as they are nocturnal. In this scene, the atmosphere is also created by the silence of the night. We can deduce this from the way Lady Macbeth refers to the way she did not hear a sound when asked by Macbeth, except: ‘¦the owl scream, and the crickets cry’. The silence leaves the audience in a state of suspense as to what is going to happen next and eagerly awaiting the next course of action the actors will produce on stage.
In this scene the tension is created when Macbeth has brought the daggers back with him when he should have left them with the servants. .Lady Macbeth says: ‘Why did you bring these daggers from the place?’ This creates tension because if Macbeth is seen with the daggers he will be accused straight away of murder. This creates a cliff hanger as it is a race against time to get the daggers away and them back into safety.
The tension in the scene is created when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are having a fast paced conversation. This is said in the conversation: ‘Didst thou not hear a noise?…’ ‘Did you not speak?…’ ‘When?…’ ‘As I descended?…’. This causes tension because she’s trying to establish what happened, however she does this quickly, which shows that there is no time to waste.
In this scene, tension is also created when Macbeth starts to hear sounds. We can deduce this from the text when Macbeth says: ‘Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep; innocent sleep¦”‘ This creates tension because people in the Elizabethan era were rather superstitious and would start to think that either the demons have come to get Macbeth, or he has gone mad. Also, the religious people from the Elizabethan era would interpret that Macbeth has murdered eternal sleep. Some people would interpret sleep as rest and when people are resting they are at their most innocent and vulnerable, they have no control over what they say, do or dream. Therefore they would interpret it like Macbeth has murdered innocence and some would interpret it that Macbeth has lost control.
In the scene the atmosphere is also created when Lady Macbeth tries to remove any thoughts of remorse from the mind of Macbeth. We can deduce this from when Macbeth says: ‘Macbeth: “This is a sorry sight.” Lady Macbeth: “A foolish thought, to say a sorry sight”‘. We see that Lady Macbeth takes control when she treats Macbeth like a child and puts him in his place. We see that Lady Macbeth has turned from a normal woman, to something cold hearted and cruel. She is turning away from any kind of emotion and creating a cold feeling into the hearts of the Elizabethan audience. In Elizabethan times a woman was considered to be lower than a man in the world order at the time. However, as we see in the play, that Shakespeare has changed the order as Lady Macbeth asks to the demons to be unsexed. We see that, even though that the world’s order at the time put women below men, Lady Macbeth is the one who takes the pivotal role that Macbeth should be taking.
Also, tension is created by the way that Macbeth has been so strong and noble, yet after killing the king his bravery and chivalry seems to desert him. We see this in the sentence: ‘Why, worthy thane, you do unbend your noble strength, to think so brainsickly of things’ This is one of those things that the Elizabethan era could speculate about. Some superstitious people would say that Macbeth has been punished by the gods/demons/angels. Less superstitious people would say that the drain of having to kill someone who you have paid oath of fealty to and thinking about the consequences would drain your bravery out of you. This is one place where Shakespeare has let the audience do the thinking.
Finally, tension is also created in the scene when the knocking starts. ‘Whence is that knocking?’ This creates tension because people in the audience were not expecting it.
In conclusion, there are many ways that this scene creates atmosphere and tension and I have only mentioned a few. Shakespeare has created the character of Macbeth in such a way that you don’t know whether to be sorry for him or to accuse him. Shakespeare has created the character of Lady Macbeth as a normal woman at first, and then becomes a cruel cold blooded character later on. The Elizabethan audience can decide for themselves if Macbeth is guilty or was persuaded by the witches and his wife Lady Macbeth.
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