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The Created Atmosphere of Macbeth

The aura of darkness, deception, and horror present in William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, envelopes the entire play and is created mainly by the sense of violence and foreboding that is evoked by the imagery. The dominant images of nature and the supernatural contribute to the atmosphere of this tragedy. The predictions of the weird sisters, along with natural forces and supernatural images, have lead to chaos in Scotland due to their impact on the characters of the play, which brings about many delusions and deaths. Nature is an image brought up many times, in both physical and human aspects.

The storms made by the witches, consisting of heavy rains, lightning and thunder, cause darkness to lure over Scotland. This darkness creates the atmosphere for the horrors that occur in the tragedy, which is seen by Duncan being killed at night and Banquo being killed in darkness, which is represented by he and Fleance entering with a torch. The famous Romantic essayist, Thomas De Quincey, explains the purpose of this darkness phenomenon by saying that the “‘world of darkness'” replaces the “‘world of ordinary life'” after Macbeth kills Duncan (Harris and Scott, comp. 166).

Macbeth goes to the witches for a second time in a dark place, in which the darkness coincides with the horror that is yet to come. The witches create other natural forces, in addition to storms and darkness, which is seen when they cause wind in order to blow a sailor’s ship to an island and leave him shipwrecked to suffer and die. The witches mainly represent the dominant image of the supernatural and are referred to as the “weird sisters”, which means fate determining. Shakespeare uses this term to insinuate that these witches determine the fate of all the horrors occurring throughout the tragedy.

Some may argue that Macbeth possesses free will and therefore chooses himself to commit the murders. It is the evilness and greed within his own human nature that persuades him, rather than it being the fate of the witches. It is obvious though that the witches affect him because he does not think to kill Duncan until the witches inform him of his fate of being king. According to William Dodge Lewis, a professor at Syracuse University, even Banquo becomes suspicious of Macbeth, thinking that he played foully for the witches’ predictions to come about quicker (289).

The predictions influence Macbeth’s actions to where he thinks to have Duncan in home not only as a guest, but as a victim as well. It is so clear that even his best friend, Banquo, has gained suspicion that the witches have given Macbeth a motive for killing Duncan, and that he has carried out the deed for greedy and power driven reasons. As said in the Macbeth article in Shakespearean Criticism, several critics feel that Macbeth is susceptible to external forces and is affected by the witches’ influence. In this article, A. C.

Bradley said that the witches represent “‘not only the evil slumbering in the hero’s soul, but all those obscure influences of the evil around him in the world'” (167). The witches symbolize every force in the outside world that can persuade his destiny in the direction of evil. The witches use deception by telling Macbeth the future in a twisted way so as to make it sound positive when it is actually not good for him. An “Armed Head” tells him to “Beware Macduff” (4. 1. 87), but he is not too worried about Macduff after hearing the second apparition.

This bloody child tells him, “None of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth” (4. 96-97). The deception is later shown when Macduff reveals that he was “untimely ripped” (5. 10. 16) from his mother’s womb, meaning he was born through a cesarean section. A child holding a tree and wearing a crown says “Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill / Shall come against him” (4. 1. 109-110). This is also deception because Malcolm’s army carries branches from Birnam Wood to disguise themselves. A messenger tells Macbeth that he saw the woods move, which slightly worries Macbeth, but he still feels strong until Macduff reveals the secret of his method of birth.

Arthur E. Baker says in his commentary that these three apparitions are used to delude him, and to lead him to a “false security” (78). Hecate, the witches’ queen, has her plan to falsify Macbeth’s security, with security being “mortals’ chiefest enemy” (3. 5. 33), and so Macbeth is deceived by the apparitions of the witches’ cavern, These apparitions also foreshadow the horror that soon follows. Hecate is able to foresee Macbeth’s arrival, which is why she meets with the weird sisters with her plan for his downfall.

In preparing the “potent charm” for Macbeth, the weird sisters each threw gruesome ingredients, including baboon’s blood, into the cauldron, adding up to “an unlucky thirteen” (Baker 113). This unlucky number of animals’ body parts and blood are the ingredients of the apparitions that appear. The “Armed Head” represents Macbeth’s head after his decapitation. The bloody child symbolizes Macduff being taken from his mother’s womb, while the child with the crown and the tree portrays Malcolm carrying a branch from Birnam Wood, and then rightfully becoming king and taking the crown.

When Macbeth sees these apparitions, he is not yet satisfied, and so he asks if Banquo’s lineage will still be kings. He is then shown eight kings, the last one holding a glass, and Banquo. He realizes that Banquo’s kin are still going to be king, and that the glass shows him there are even more than the eight kings shown that will follow in reign. If Banquo’s family will wear the crown, then that implies that Macbeth can obviously then not be king while they hold the throne, which therefore foreshadows Macbeth’s downfall.

He sees it though as needing to kill more people to keep his crown, and so horror soon follows again with the killing of Macduff’s wife and son, being that Macbeth has just been told to beware Macduff. These supernatural apparitions have caused there to be another set of horrors, including the death of Macduff’s family, which further leads to Macbeth’s demise. Everything supernatural that Macbeth encounters makes him more evil. He sees a floating dagger in the air before killing Duncan, to which makes him less guilty to commit the murder.

He first sees himself as Duncan’s kinsman and host, and wants to retract his idea of murder. After seeing the dagger, he says that he will now draw a weapon just like the “dagger of mind” (2. 1. 38), and continues to say that soon there will be blood on the blade of his real dagger. Walter Clyde Curry proposed that Macbeth’s hallucinations and Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking are even meant to be caused by demonic powers (Harris and Scott, comp. 168). The supernatural forces of the play affect the nature of the characters in such a negative way to where it is suggested that the forces could be demonic.

Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost at his great feast, which scares him to think that he may be in danger because what he sees “might appal[l] the devil” (3. 4. 58). This fear causes him to visit the witches again, and after seeing the apparitions in the cavern, Macbeth is inclined more than ever to just randomly kill people. His fear of losing the crown to Banquo’s kin and his warning to beware Macduff, which are both caused by supernatural forces, cause more horrors to occur. “From the time of his [first] meeting with the witches the evil thoughts in his nature asserted themselves, and he allowed them to have full sway” (Baker 94).

The supernatural forces change Macbeth from a noble general of King Duncan’s army to the power driven murderer of that same king. Macbeth’s human nature changes due to the influence of the weird sisters and Lady Macbeth. The weird sisters give Macbeth the idea that he would become king, and he decides that he would take the throne himself by killing Duncan. Being that his human nature was not yet totally evil, he tries to revoke his idea. Wayne Booth says that Macbeth’s reluctance to kill Duncan indicates that he is not “naturally evil,” and G. R. Elliot expands on this idea by saying that Macbeth’s actions are “‘essentially very human'” (Harris and Scott, comp. 169). Lady Macbeth provokes him to go through with the murder by using her human nature as a tool for deception against him. She says “Yet do I fear thy nature; / It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way” (1. 5. 15-17). She realizes that Macbeth’s human nature is still too good to go through with killing Duncan, so she uses deceit by questioning his manhood. She says that she would kill her own baby if she promised him that she would, which causes him commit the murder to prove his manhood.

When Macbeth arrives home, Lady Macbeth uses the words of the witches to greet him. She addresses him as “Great Glamis! Worthy Cawdor! / Greater than both, by the all-hail hereafter! ” (1. 5. 53-54). Lady Macbeth knows that by using the words of the witches, the fate of his future power will cause his greed to triumph and Macbeth will commit the murder. When Duncan comes to their home, Macbeth and his wife have to look like they are nice and innocent hosts, but this is just deception being that their human nature is causing them to plot Duncan’s death.

Lady Macbeth explains this with nature, saying, “bear welcome in your eye, / Your hand, your tongue; look like the innocent flower, / But be the serpent under ‘t” (1. 5. 63-65). Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have to act innocent so that they are not suspected of the murder. Lady Macbeth really understands this concept and says “Wherever in your sightless substances? / You wait on nature’s mischief” (1. 5. 48-49). Nature is deceitful and it will cause Macbeth to commit the murder by changing his human nature from good to evil. Nature allows for suitable compensation by preventing Macbeth to have children because he is not a good father figure.

Macbeth is viewed as a tragic figure because of his downfall, yet his incapability of childbearing seems like an apropos requital because his human nature becomes evil, and so it is fortunate that nature has not allowed him to become a father. Freud states, in reference to the murders in the play, that their “‘crimes against the sanctity of geniture'” leave the fact that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth cannot have children as an appropriate repayment for their actions. Ludwig Jekels furthers this notion by saying Macbeth is a bad “‘son'” because he murders Duncan, who is the father figure.

He is also a bad “father” to Banquo and Macduff, his “figurative sons,” which dismisses the wish of being a father to heirs of the throne (Harris and Scott, comp. 168). Macbeth is not a good father to characters who are figuratively his sons because he kills Macduff’s family and Banquo. He is also so cruel as to commit such harsh murders, being he began by killing his own king, and then continued with his brutality with the murder of his best friend. He commits a terrible act by calling for the murder of Duncan’s wife and son because it is always mothers and children who are supposed to be the first saved when there is danger.

This act, referred to as Macbeth’s “ruthlessness” (Lewis 261), furthermore shows that Macbeth could not be a father because he has ordered for the murder of a child. Therefore, nature has prevented him from having the honor of being a father, especially the glory of fathering heirs. Nature is playing a medial part in the tragedy by preventing this childbearing from occurring. Nature is further seen as a dominant image when it becomes chaotic and unnatural things start occurring after Macbeth’s unrightfully taking of the thrown. The days are dark and there is very bad weather.

Lennox says that during the night of Duncan’s the murder there are “Lamentings heard i'[n] th'[e] air, strange screams of death [,and . . . ] Some say the earth / Was feverous and did shake” (2. 3. 55-60). Duncan’s trained horses go wild and break out of their stalls. They seem like they are going to “Make war with mankind” (2. 4. 18), and these skilled horses eat each other. Owls kill falcons and chimneys blow over. Also, there is the thought that patricide has been committed, when people suspect that Malcolm and Donalbain are involved in Duncan’s murder, which is also an unnatural act.

The Doctor explains this by saying “Unnatural deeds / Do breed unnatural troubles” (5. 1. 68-69). Macbeth and Lady Macbeth went against human nature by taking fate into their own hands. They committed deeds in which, even if the same outcome was to arise, they rushed the end result and killed Duncan instead of just waiting for the crown to be bestowed upon Macbeth naturally. Theodore Spencer states that “‘everything about Macbeth is a violation of nature. ” G. Wilson Knight perceives that “Macbeth continually upsets the unity of nature and sets destruction against creation” (Harris and Scott, comp. 8-169). By going against the forces of nature, unnatural consequences begin to be faced. Nature becomes normal again after Malcolm becomes king.

He says in the final speech that “by grace of grace / We will perform in measure, time, and place” to restore the natural order that Macbeth has overturned. D. A. Traversi says that “Macbeth is defeated by the natural order, represented by Malcolm’s ‘army of deliverance. ‘” Knight states that Macbeth and Macduff, who represent “supernatural grace,” end the unnatural chaos and restore the natural harmony (Harris and Scott, compl. 8-169). When Malcolm is given the crown, all of the unnatural anarchy that has been present is overcome by the natural order, being Malcolm is the rightful king. Nature and the supernatural cause the mood of Macbeth, and these images create feelings of darkness, deception, and horror. There is a sense of violence created by these images that form the atmosphere of the tragedy. “It is a play entirely obsessed and pulsating with wickedness, and it generates such a powerful aura of evil that even to read it can make a sensitive person tremble” (Huggett 154).

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