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The Curious Atmosphere of Macbeth

The Curious Atmosphere of Macbeth

The Bard of Avon created a complex atmosphere in his writing of the tragedy Macbeth. Let’s give detailed consideration to this aspect of the drama in this paper.

In Fools of Time: Studies in Shakespearean Tragedy, Northrop Frye shows how the atmosphere is altered for the better at the end of the play:

This theme is at its clearest where we are most in sympathy with the nemesis. Thus at the end of Macbeth, after the proclamation “the time is free,” and of promises to make reparations of Macbeth’s tyranny “Which would be planted newly with the time,” there will be a renewal not only of time but of the whole rhythm of nature symbolized by the word “measure,” which includes both the music of the spheres and the dispensing of human justice [. . .]. (94-95)

In his book, On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy, H. S. Wilson explains why the atmosphere is so important in Macbeth:

Macbeth is a play in which the poetic atmosphere is very important; so important, indeed, that some recent commentators give the impression that this atmosphere, as created by the imagery of the play, is its determining quality. For those who pay most attention to these powerful atmospheric suggestions, this is doubtless true. Mr. Kenneth Muir, in his introduction to the play – which does not, by the way, interpret it simply from this point of view – aptly describes the cumulative effect of the imagery: “The contrast between light and darkness is part of a general antithesis between good and evil, devils and angels, evil and grace, hell and heaven . . . and the disease images of IV, iii and in the last act clearly reflect both the evil which is a disease, and Macbeth himself who is the disease from which his country suffers.”(67-68)

L.C. Knights in the essay “Macbeth” mentions equivocation, unreality and unnaturalness in the play – contributors to an atmosphere that may not be very realistic:

The equivocal nature of temptation, the commerce with phantoms consequent upon false choice, the resulting sense of unreality (“nothing is, but what is not”), which has yet such power to “smother” vital function, the unnaturalness of evil (“against the use of nature”), and the relation between disintegration in the individual (“my single state of man”) and disorder in the larger social organism – all these are major themes of the play which are mirrored in the speech under consideration.

Masterful Management of the Atmosphere in Macbeth

Masterful Management of the Atmosphere in Macbeth

Shakespeare in his tragedy Macbeth shows himself to be a playwright who can manipulate the atmosphere at every turn in the road. The atmosphere of this play is a choreographic work of art which is synchronized with the action of the play.

Blanche Coles states in Shakespeare’s Four Giants that he agrees with G. B. Harrison, that this play contains one of the finest examples of atmosphere ever created in drama:

Macbeth is overwhelmed with the significance of his filthy deed. His wife is concerned only with the details of what must be done next – with facts. She has no imagination. The passage between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth after the murder is one of the finest examples of atmosphere ever created in drama.”(62)

Lily B. Campbell in her volume of criticism, Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes: Slaves of Passion,

explains how the atmosphere of terror and fear is built up:

Macbeth is, however, not only a study of fear; it is a study in fear. The sounds and images in the play combine to give the atmosphere of terror and fear. The incantation of the witches, the bell that tolls while Duncan dies, the cries of Duncan, the cries of the women as Lady Macbeth dies, the owl, the knocking at the gate, the wild horses that ate each other, the story, the quaking of the earth – all of these are the habitual accompaniments of the willfully fearful in literature. (238-39)

Charles Lamb in On the Tragedies of Shakespeare comments on the atmosphere surrounding the play:

The state of sublime emotion into which we are elevated by those images of night and horror which Macbeth is made to utter, that solemn prelude with which he entertains the time till the bell shall strike which is to call him to murder Duncan, – when we no longer read it in a book, when we have given up that vantage-ground of abstraction which reading possesses over seing, and come to see a man in his bodily shape before our eyes actually preparing to commit a muder, if the acting be true and impressive as I have witnessed it in Mr. K’s performance of that part, the painful anxiety about the act, the natural longing to prevent it while it yet seems unperpetrated, the too close pressing semblance of reality,give a pain and an uneasiness [.

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