How Does Shakespeare Create An Atmosphere Of

Evil In Act 4, Sc. 1? Essay, Research Paper

Scene 1 of Act 4 is certainly one of the most visually impacting and intriguing scenes of the entire play. This strong effect is attained by the sequential presentation of mysterious images and a close reference to evil throughout the whole scene. On stage, the visual (the actions and apparitions) and audible (the speech and sound effects as the thunder) factors engulf the entire scene in an atmosphere of wickedness.

We must first consider the stage directions that indicate the location were the action is to take place. It is ?A dark cave. In the middle, a boiling cauldron. Thunder??. The site is instantaneously evident to the audience as the curtains are opened, so even before any action takes place the public can sense the mood the scene is to portray. As the witches brew their charm to bring disgrace to Macbeth we come across numerous suggestions of evil and mystery.

Their chanting, ?Double, double, toil and trouble: Fire burn and cauldron bubble? is rhythmic and has an almost an hypnotic quality to it, even so that it is still one of the most famous extracts of the whole of literature.

There is also a repetition of the word ?thrice?, referring to three. During Shakespearean times religion was a main pillar of society and daily life, paganism was feared and condemned without mercy. The number three was of high importance in Celtic pagan traditions and for strictly Christian audiences it was seen as evil. We shall see that religious aberrations are of crucial importance to create the atmosphere of evil, as they are its maximum manifestation.

The ingredients that the witches add to the cauldron are also important, as many of them are associated with themes of death and mutilation. We see that most of the ingredients are sectioned limbs or organs of different animals associated with evil themselves: ?Fillet of a fenny snake?, ?Toe of frog? or ?Lizard?s leg?. The witches also refer to human body parts making the ingredient list even more terrifying. The image of death reaches its dramatical peak when the witches add the ?Finger of a birth-strangled babe, / Ditch delivered by a drab?. The horrifying image of the murdering of a defenceless newborn is brought up again (we had seen it before when we are first introduced to Lady Macbeth) this powerful image would shock the audience and thus would have thought the witches as overwhelmingly evil.

We find once again the reference to religion when the witches add to their poison ?Liver of blaspheming Jew?. We notice that the line immediately below says, ?Gall of goat?? referring to the liver secretion of a goat. This incites the audience to relate the Jew with the goat, the traditional image of the devil.

Given that the poison was brewed as a charm for Macbeth, the audience can correlate the images of death presented with the intention of the witches? actions deducing that Macbeth?s death will soon be dealt with in the play. This idea is reinforced afterwards when a witch throws ??into the flame? a murderer?s gibbet. This presents the idea that Macbeth will have the same fate as a murderer, being thrown into the flames of hell after his death.

In this scene the witches also strengthen the idea of the wickedness of Macbeth. Just after brewing the terrible charm with such horrifying ingredients Macbeth enters on stage and one of the witches says, ? Something wicked this way comes?. This is highly ironic as the witches who have just shown how depraved they truly are calling Macbeth ?wicked?. The audience now is inclined to think that he is the most evil character of the play.

This evil is then proved from lines 50 to 60 when Macbeth tells the witches to answer his question even ?Though you untie the winds, and let them fight / Against the churches?? He shows supreme selfishness and once again a reference religion is made making Macbeth look like a diabolical heathen (as he is begging the witches, instruments of the devil). This would have a very large impact on Shakespearean times audiences and would have acted to them as the final death sentence for Macbeth.

The apparitions that follow add a strong element of mysticism to the scene making the atmosphere not only saturated with evil, but equally of the occult and diabolical. The first apparition, a helmeted head which warns Macbeth of the Thane of Fife is probably the image of Macbeth?s own head after being slain by Macduff, warning him of his own unchangeable fate. Its short and keen warning gives a sense of desperation and hopelessness in its words easily grasped by the audience as the tension of the scene is built up.

The second apparition, a child covered in blood, is most likely the image of Macduff as a baby after being born prematurely by a caesarean operation. It warns Macbeth of his enemy again, but in an opposite way as the first apparition.

The third apparition is perhaps the most awkward of them all. It is a crowned child, with a tree in his hand, probably representing Malcolm warning Macbeth of his alliance with the English army and his attack to Dunsinane. However, Macbeth does not understand the meaning of this last prophecy, likewise the audience, as they have no idea of Malcolm?s strategy of attack. This sense of confusion caused by such obscure prophecies and mystic symbolism, as well as the apparition of the Kings and Banquo?s Ghost are important contributing factors to the darkly supernatural atmosphere that Shakespeare has created as they add, once again to the extra corporeal effect of the scene.

Summing up, we can say that Shakespeare has created the atmosphere of evil portrayed in this scene by combining earthly evil, this is, Macbeth?s ambition and obsession with the prophecies, with unearthly evil. This evil consists of the aberrations against the Christian religion (religion that most of the original public was member of) perpetrated by Macbeth and the witches, and the obscure and confusing symbolism as well as the rituals, both proper of the diabolical.


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