Macbeth - "Shakespeare's plays tell great stories that still have relevance. How does Shakespeare use dramatic techniques to achieve this?

Essay by eluuHigh School, 10th gradeA-, May 2004

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Shakespeare's works from the 16th century are great stories regarded as still having relevance to modern society. One of the ways this is possible is through the dramatic techniques used. This is evident from one of his greatest works, Macbeth.

In Shakespeare's Macbeth ambition conspires with unholy forces to commit evil deeds, which, in their turn, generate fear, guilt and still more horrible crimes. Above all, Macbeth is a character study in which two protagonists respond individually and jointly to the psychological burden of their sins. In the course of the play, Macbeth repeatedly misinterprets the guilt that he suffers as being simply a matter of fear. His characteristic way of dealing with his guilt is to face it directly by committing still more misdeeds, and this, of course, only generates further madness.

Irony is constantly used in the play. There are two main types of irony that are used in the play: dramatic irony and situational irony.

Dramatic irony is used frequently in Macbeth. A major example is where Lennox asks Macbeth whether the king is to leave Macbeth's castle for home (Act 2 Scene 3)

Lennox: "Goes the king hence today?"

Macbeth: "He does: he did appoint so."

Obviously Macbeth is lying through his teeth, for the audience was fully aware that he planned to murder King Duncan that night. But if one takes Macbeth's reply literally, Duncan did "plan" to leave the castle the next day; there is no lie to be found in that.

Another example that demonstrates Shakespeare's use of dramatic irony is the Porter scene in Act 2 Scene 3. "If a man were porter of hell-gate, he should have old turning the key..." After the king's murder is discovered, it is almost comedic the way Lady Macbeth responds to the announcement of King Duncan's murder. First she enters in mock confusion questioning:

Lady Macbeth: "What's the business, That such a hideous trumpet calls to parley

The sleepers of the house? speak, speak!" (Act 2 Scene 3)

One can imagine the actor portraying Lady Macbeth embellishing her performance almost to be point at which it might be called over-acting. Then with Macduff's reply refusing to tell her what has happened for "The repetition in a woman's ear would murder as it fell," one can not help but ignore the serious tone of the scene to laugh at the irony of his choice of words. The lady then plays her innocence more by replying in alarm to Macduff's telling Banquo of the murder,

Lady Macbeth: "Woe, alas! What in our house?"

The work is also filled with many examples of situational irony, such as the mysterious appearance of a third murderer in Act 3, Scene 3. It seems a strange chance that such a mysterious element happens in the third scene of the third act when one considers the symbolic meaning of the number "three" to the play. One of the prime examples of situational is the way in which the strange sisters' prophecies unfold. Macbeth was given the illusion of being immortal when he was told by the second apparition that he would "no man of woman born" shall harm him

(Act 4 Scene 1) This illusion was amplified with the third apparition's promise:

Third Apparition: "Macbeth shall never be vanquish'd be until Great Birham Wood to high Dunsinane Hill Shall come against him." (Act 4 Scene 1)

Throughout the play, characters like Macbeth and Lady Macbeth give out several soliloquies. These are useful in letting the audience know what the characters are thinking. In Act I Scene VII, with the help of soliloquies, the responders learn that Macbeth is reluctant about carrying out the murder of Duncan.

In Act V, the doctor of the castle finds Lady Macbeth sleepwalking, and muttering different things. In this monologue, Lady Macbeth is found suspicious of some dirty deeds done - which was helping Macbeth to murder Duncan:

Lady Macbeth: "Out, damned spot! out I say! ...

Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?"

"What! will these hands ne'er be clean?"

"Here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh! oh! oh!" (Act 5 Scene 1)

Imagery was employed in this play to provide the reader with vivid images. In the play, evil is suggested with darkness. For example, in Act I Scene V, Lady Macbeth says, "Come, thick Night', the time when both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth can carry out the murder of King Duncan. In that speech, there are also references to storm, lightning and thunder, which suggest a gloom and brooding atmosphere. The hideous quality of evil is also suggested by the animal imagery - animals that prey and those associated with ill omen. Light and grace is associated with Duncan and also King Edward of England.

Shakespeare uses many dramatic techniques in Macbeth to make his plays still seem relevant in today's world. This is made possible by the ongoing conflict, irony and soliloquies, as well as the fact that the whole play is a tragedy.