In Macbeth, “A play for a king”, William Shakespeare builds up tension by playing on the superstitions of the audience, the setting for the murder, what the characters say to one and other and how they speak to one and other. All of these coupled together with the exaggerated noises of stage, heighten the tension in the first two scenes of act two.
Shakespeare starts building up tension right from the start of the Act by making a scene in which there is no moon in the night sky. We know this because Fleance says there is no moon in the night sky and to a “James” audience this will mean that something bad will happen, and this is one example of Shakespeare playing on the audiences superstitions.
He also builds up tension right from the start of act two scene one by writing that Banquo gives his sword, his only piece of protection to his son Fleance. We know this because Banquo says “Hold takes my sword” and this will give the audience an indication that Banquo fears for his son’s life. This would tell the audience that something bad will happen because why would Banquo be worried more about his son than what he normally is.
Shakespeare also builds up tension by being ironic in his play writing. In these scenes he is ironic when he tells the audience that King Duncan gives his only diamond to Lady Macbeth. This is ironic because to a “James” audience, a diamond would have been seen as a symbol of protection and that King Duncan has lost his only piece of protection to the one person who is plotting to kill him. These scenes also show symbols of evil by Lady Macbeth.
Shakespeare uses what his characters say to make tension as he makes them lie and the audience know “Macbeth” is lying. The audience will know that the murder will take place so this will add to the tension because the audience know what Macbeth is thinking. The phrase that I have used for this example is in act two scene one and it is when Macbeth says “I think not of them”. By this Macbeth is referring to what the witches told him and Banquo at the start of the play.
Shakespeare adds tension when he tells the audience that Macbeth is seeing “Visions off a dagger” and that the dagger is pointing towards King Duncan’s chamber and also the dagger has blood on the handle. The blood on the handle of the dagger and it pointing towards King Duncan’s chamber will add tension because the audience will immediately know that Macbeth is about to kill the king. It is also adding tension as this is Shakespeare showing Macbeths fear and fright at to what he is about to do. In this part of the play, Shakespeare uses a “soliquay”. This makes Macbeth sound “trance like” and that evil has taken him over. This to a “James” audience would show Macbeths disturbed behaviour as he is trying to grab a dagger that isn’t there.
Shakespeare uses sounds such as a “wolfs howl” in act two scene one and when the “bell sounds” in Act two scene One. A bell sound adds tension because the bell sound was a “knell” and this to a “James” audience would have been the sound of funeral bells and now because of this, we know that King Duncan will now die. This will also tell the audience that somebody is going to die within the play and the audience will know that it will be King Duncan.
In act two scene two Macbeth and Lady Macbeth use short, sharp sentences and one word sentences to build up tension right at the start of the scene and some examples are “I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise” “I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry. Did not you speak?” and some examples of one word sentences are “when”, “now”, and “hark”.
When Shakespeare uses the term “crickets” this will add tension as the “James” audience know that cricket are insects that would herald death.
Tension is added when Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth that he heard “a voice cry sleep no more!” and sleep to anybody in Elizabethan times was very important. Sleep was important because anybody who couldn’t sleep was said to have been invaded in spirits. This was again Shakespeare using the audience’s superstitions to build up tension during the scene.
Another point of tension is when Macbeth tries to say the end of the prayer but he couldn’t say it because he had just killed King Duncan and committed treason. This shows that Macbeth has been invaded by “evil spirits” and they have taken him over. We know that they have taken him over because he heard voices of people talking in there sleep next door. Macbeth “hearing voices” in his head would show that Macbeth was feeling “pressure” to succeed in trying and succeeding in the killing of King Duncan and this will add to the tension. This is what Macbeth feared when he was planning the murder with Lady Macbeth. Being unable to pray would have proved to the audience that Macbeth had been over taken by evil spirits.
When the gates are being knocked on, this will add tension because Lady Macbeth starts to worry and this will show her fear at being caught for her involvement in the murder of King Duncan.
With Macbeth unable to wash the blood of his hands and him unable to take the daggers back would tell the audience that he is upset, angry and shocked at what he has done because he cannot wash of the blood. This will also show Macbeths guilt at murdering his king and it will show a sign of his weakness.