How Is Dramatic Tension Created in Act 2 Scene 2 of Macbeth?

Last Updated: 19 Apr 2023
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Shakespear wrote the play 'Macbeth' in the 16th century and its set in the 11th century. The different themes explored in this play are Power, Fate, Destiny, Evil as well as the unnatural. The play is about Macbeth trying to gain power in ruthless ways because of the predictions the three witches made. Lady Macbeth plays an important role throughout the play too as a powerful elizabethan woman. In Act 2 Scene 2 Macbeth starts going insane due to the guilt and we see a change in his character right before this scene Macbeth's killed the king and now is dying out of guilt.

This is a very pivotal scene in the play as I believe this is the turning point of the play as after this scene more crime is commited too. The scene begins with Lady Macbeth talking. The audience understands that Lady Macbeth is waiting for her husband to return from commiting the crime. Lady Macbeth seems to be thrilled and agitated, telling herself that its all going to be okay. She feels courageous and fearless, the audience gets this idea as she keeps repeating her plan over and over and over again believeing in herself feeling "bold" claiming she has "fire".

Lady Macbeth comes out as a very strong Elizabethan woman who believes in her own power to manipulate and control Macbeth the way she likes it. She first says “that what hath made them drunk, hath made bold; What hath quench’d them, hath give me fire” this is her saying she is excited as she believes that her husband is about to achieve greatness and become the king, his plans have made her passionate about the death of Duncan or is she trying to convince herself that she is right to plan the murder? A Shakespearian audience would start to believe that she is a witch as in Shakespeare times they strongly believed in witches.

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Reason why Shakespear wrote this play was due to King James the first's obsession with witchcraft. A Shakespearen audience would be very appalled as they would expect a woman in those times to be very obident and innocent. Shes meant to represent her husband however Lady Macbeth behaves much differently. This gives the impression that she is twisted as she sees murder as something so trivial and has no feeling of guilt whatsoever, to an extent of planning the death of the Duncan.. A king also in those times is said to be as a "messanger of God" therefore killing a God's messanger would be something that could lead upto death penalty.

A modern audience would not be as shocked as a Shakespearn audience as society has now changed and such behaviour is very expected in a woman too but some might disagree and act surprised as women are seen to be the more vulnerable, helpless ones in society and would never expect them to behave in this manner. Macbeth enters when the crime is commited. Lady Macbeth makes sure to greet him. Dramatic tension first starts when Lady Macbeth says ‘the owl scream and the crickets cry’. To a modern audience, this has no meaning but during Shakespearean times these noises were signs of someone who has died/death.

Also, something evil and unatural. Short sentences are used to build up dramatic tension. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth use one worded answers and ask short questions. For example: ‘When? ’ ‘Now. ’ ‘As I descended? ’ ‘Ay. ’ This builds up tension as the reader might believe Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are scared so the conversation is short and snappy. If this scene was re-enacted the actor would read this in a hushed voice and a quiet tone as they wouldn't want to get caught. The audience is aware that Macbeth has commited a sin.

The audience would begin to feel cautious and tension builds up because what happens next is not predicatble, the audience is not sure if they would get caught or heard by someone. This is where things start to get a twist and this scene gets more interesting as we see a change in the characters. This is where Macbeth's madness starts as well as his guilt and the fear that people will discover what has happened. The theme of guilt is then built up throughout this scene. Lady Macbeth seems to keep her sentences short in this part of the scene as she thinks that Macbeth is starting to go insane.

She says things such as "Consider it not so deeply" she doesn't want to confuse him furthur or wants him to feel any sense of guilt as this would blow her cover. Macbeth says "I had most need of blessing, and 'Amen' Stuck in my throat" He wont say a holy word as hes gone against all of The divine rights of Kings which means he has also gone against God. The audience understands his guilt and feels however they know he did wrong and also went against his religion therefore it’s understandable that Macbeth should suffer with his guilt. Religion is shown at this point.

Lady Macbeth takes notice of Macbeth's condition and tries to make sense to him For example ‘These deeds must not be thought, After these ways; so, it will make us mad’. She makes sure of herself and is assertive. The audience can see no signs of regret or guilt with her whatsoever. The theme of nature and guilt are constantly repeated throughout this scene. ‘Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep’ which suggests that people will be in fear that Macbeth is left loose. Sleep is nature’s way of healing a person and Macbeth can't get any as he went against all the rules of nature - "Sleep no more; Macbeth shall sleep no more".

Macbeth says ‘I heard a voice cry’. This suggests hes going insane as he begins to hear other voices in his head. The constant repetition of referal to nature and religion emphasizes his guilt and regret; He knows he did wrong and repeating it reminds him of that. Macbeth feels confused and helpless as his insanity gets difficult to deal with. Lady Macbeth starts to take notice of Macbeth's madness and tries to take control of it. Themes of guilt and regret are still carried on. Lady Macbeth tries to inforce her words on him, For example ‘Infirm of purpose! As if shes telling him to accept the facts and move on. Lady Macbeth still shows no signs of guilt or regret. She is frustrated and almost shouting at him, forcing him into believing the way she does. Her tone of voice and use of language is harsh which attacks Macbeth's pride and ego as a man. She mentally manipulates him into thinking her way. Lady Macbeth takes control and is motivated by the need to not get caught and by the greed of power so then she can become the queen. The audience can once again see her manipulative side and feels sympathetic towards Macbeth.

She tells Macbeth to hand her the daggers; she makes Macbeth feel useless and little as a person, directly attacking his pride as a man. Macbeth's madness continues to get worse. Lady Macbeth says "My hands are of your colour; but I shame To wear a heart so white" She makes him feel that he done the same crime as her but shes perfectly fine but hes acting like a coward, she keeps attacking his pride so that she gets what she wants out of him. As during Shakespearean times, pride and honour meant a great deal of importance. Macbeth doesn’t show any of this now.

Becoming the queen is the most important motivation for her currently. Shes driven by her need and greed for power. Use of language is used to build tension, Shakespeare uses a hyperbole to express Macbeth’s guilt and the theme of regret. For example ‘Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hands? ’ This tells me that Macbeth feels really guilty hes comparing what he did as big a deal as the whole ocean saying Macbeth would need an ocean so big for him to be forgiven or to wipe away the evidence of his crime and wash this crime, this blood off their hands.

Also ‘The multitudinous seas in incarnadine, making the green one red’. This imagery of blood and red is repeated and exaggerated which then again links to guilt and the theme of blood. Short sentences and noise such as ‘Knocking’ is used repeatedly to build up tension, the fear that anyone will find out keeps them anxious. Dramatic tension is created throughout this scene by the use of language, short sentences, hyperboles, repetition and imagery. This scene is an important one in the play as this is where we see a change in the characters and theres a twist in the story.

This creates suspense and makes it unpredictable so the audience wants to know what will happen next and keep them interested and wanting more. Hyperboles emphasize the crucial themes in this scene like how Macbeth needs the oceans to describe his guilt and regret. Repetition makes the action continuous and seem important as its being repeated a several times and short sentences speed up the pace of which the actions happen at and help build up tension.

Related Questions

on How Is Dramatic Tension Created in Act 2 Scene 2 of Macbeth?

Why Wont Macbeth Take The Daggers Back To The Scene Of The Crime?
Macbeth is overcome with guilt and fear, making him unable to face the reality of what he has done. He also fears being caught and punished for his actions.
How Does Shakespeare Portray Macbeths Guilt In Act 2 Scene 2?
Shakespeare portrays Macbeth's guilt in Act 2 Scene 2 by showing him hallucinating and hearing voices that accuse him of committing murder. He also uses language to convey Macbeth's inner turmoil and his realization that he has committed a heinous crime.
What Sound Effect Causes Tension To Rise Dramatically At The End Of Act 2 Scene 2 ?
The sound effect that causes tension to rise dramatically at the end of Act 2 Scene 2 varies depending on the play or production. It could be a sudden loud noise, eerie music, or even silence.
How Do The Witches Create Tension In Macbeth ?
The witches create tension in Macbeth by their ominous prophecies and their mysterious and otherworldly presence, which suggest that Macbeth's fate is predetermined and beyond his control. Their ambiguous language and their ability to manipulate Macbeth's thoughts and actions further heighten the sense of unease and suspense in the play.

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How Is Dramatic Tension Created in Act 2 Scene 2 of Macbeth?. (2017, Dec 05). Retrieved from

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