Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, and the opening scenes are integral to setting the stage for the events that follow. Shakespeare makes use of a number of devices to make the opening scenes of Macbeth dramatic, including foreshadowing, atmosphere, and tension.
Foreshadowing is used throughout Macbeth to hint at the tragedy that is to come. In the opening scene, the Three Witches make a number of predictions about Macbeth’s future, telling him that he will “be king hereafter” (I.iii.50). This immediately sets up a sense of foreboding and gives the audience a hint of the tragedy that is to come.
The atmosphere in the opening scenes is also tense and oppressive. The setting is dark and stormy, which creates a sense of unease. This is further heightened by the fact that Macbeth is meeting the Three Witches in a secret location, away from the prying eyes of others. This gives the audience a sense that something sinister is about to take place.
Finally, Shakespeare uses tension to ratchet up the drama in the opening scenes. This is achieved through the use of suspenseful music, as well as Macbeth’s internal conflict as he wrestles with whether or not to kill Duncan. All of these elements come together to create an opening that is both dramatic and memorable.
The American Shakespeare Centre’s performance of Macbeth included some rare plot devices not often seen in other interpretations of the play. One such example is their choice to include unique details in the characters’ costumes.
Macbeth’s famous soliloquy, “Is this a dagger which I see before me?” is one of the most well-known scenes in all of Shakespeare. The scene is often cut down or edited for modern productions, but the American Shakespeare Centre kept the scene intact and even added to it by having Macbeth seem to hallucinate the ghost of Banquo.
This production also made use of sound and lighting effects to further the dramatic atmosphere. For example, during Macbeth’s first appearance, he is only seen in silhouette against a bright light. This adds an element of mystery and suspense as the audience does not yet know what Macbeth looks like.
Macbeth begins the play wearing a Scottish tartan sash, symbolizing his loyalty to his country and kinsmen. In fact, both Banquo and Macbeth are dressed in similar clothing, emphasizing Macbeth’s position as an upstanding citizen and warrior. Banquo is himself a respected military general and is costumed accordingly. The scene is set at dusk on a heath in medieval times.
Two Witches appear and Macbeth and Banquo are discussing the supernatural when they hear the sound of an owl and an animal scurrying about in the darkness. Macbeth says that such things should make one “afraid”, to which Banquo responds that there is nothing to be afraid of – as long as one’s conscience is clear. This sets up Macbeth’s internal conflict which will be a driving force throughout the play.
The witches greet Macbeth first, addressing him as “Thane of Cawdor”, a title which has not yet been bestowed upon him. This immediately raises questions in Macbeth and Banquo’s minds as to how the witches could know this. The witches then prophecise that Macbeth will become king, and Banquo’s sons will be kings – though Banquo himself will not be one. Again, Macbeth is troubled by this, while Banquo is more reserved, saying only that time will tell.
At this point, Ross and Angus enter, confirming the witches’ predictions by informing Macbeth that he has indeed been named Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth is elated, but Banquo is again more reserved, warning Macbeth to beware of trusting the witches too much.
These opening scenes are dramatic for a number of reasons. Firstly, the setting immediately creates a sense of foreboding and unease. The heath is desolate and barren, and the darkness further adds to the feeling of unease. The sound of the owl and the animal also add to this feeling.
The addition of the “and” at the end of Macduff’s line emphasizes how he has switched loyalties. Though he’s wearing Duncan’s crown and cloak, compared to previous scenes, his leather costume is more military. This contrast demonstrates that Macbeth does not have a firm grip on power; rather, it shows his transition to new allegiances and personal gain.
Although he is now in possession of Duncans’ crown and mantle, as opposed to before when they were worn by Duncan, both men wore a considerably more militarized leather garment in prior sequences. In essence, this change reflects not patriotism but Macbeth’s new devotion to power and self-interest.
Macbeth’s false sense of security is later punctured when Macduff arrives in England to rally Malcolm’s troops.
Macbeth’s hallucinations are another significant factor in the play’s opening scenes. Macbeth sees a dagger before him, which no one else can see, as he contemplates murdering Duncan. The dagger represents Macbeth’s conscience, or perhaps his fear, as he wrestles with the decision to kill Duncan. Macbeth also sees a ghost of Banquo during the banquet scene, which further unnerves him and causes him to act erratically. These hallucinations underscore Macbeth’s mental state and foreshadow his eventual downfall.
Even Macbeth is concerned about this instability, as he believes that Banquo’s sons were foretold by the witches’ prophecy. Macbeth stops wearing Duncan’s cape after seeing Banquo’s ghost at the banquet; suggesting his lack of control over the throne and shortcomings as Duncan’s successor. He maintains this golden getup for the rest of the show until he goes back to see the witches.
Macbeth’s clothing choices show his descent into madness. Shakespeare makes Macbeth’s opening scenes dramatic by utilizing the literary devices of foreshadowing and symbolism. Throughout the play, there are numerous examples of these which hint at Macbeth’s impending downfall. For instance, Macbeth is initially hesitant to kill Duncan, even after being encouraged to do so by his wife. This foreshadows Macbeth’s later reluctance to kill Banquo, which leads to his downfall.
In addition, Macbeth’s relationship with his wife is often symbolized by the color red. This is seen in the scene where Macbeth kills Duncan, as Lady Macbeth is wearing a red dress. This symbolizes the bloodshed that will occur as a result of Macbeth’s actions.
Shakespeare also makes use of dramatic irony in Macbeth. This is seen when Macbeth is talking to the witches and they tell him that he will be king. At this point, the audience knows that Macbeth will eventually kill Duncan and take his place as king. However, Macbeth does not know this and is unaware of the events that will unfold. This creates a sense of suspense for the audience as they wait to see how Macbeth will react to the news.
Overall, Shakespeare makes excellent use of literary devices to create a sense of drama in Macbeth.