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The Role of Atmosphere and Setting in Macbeth

Updated August 13, 2022

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The Role of Atmosphere and Setting in Macbeth essay

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Atmosphere and setting plays a very important part in Macbeth. The play starts with the Witches, which is at a desolate place with thunder and lightning. This is first of all a pathetic fallacy because of the weather being so bad and the hideous appearance of the witches. This scene also gives us the first sign of the supernatural.

The witches are the man source of the evil and supernatural in the play and they also give an impression of fear, horror and mystery. It is important of them to start the play, as they are the catalysts for all Macbeth’s decisions, so obviously they effect the play quite a lot. They can foretell the future, defy the laws of nature and change the weather. But their powers are ambiguous; they have to answer to Hecate.

They can turn into animals but when one of them turns into a rat it has no tail, showing their flawed power. They also can’t make Macbeth kill Duncan; they just create an atmosphere, manipulating him, which makes him want to kill him. They use animals to enhance the atmosphere and amplify their evil, unnatural state. Shakespeare doesn’t just use animals to show the evil of the Witches he also uses animals to convey the state of the country, ie, when the horses eat each other after Duncan has been killed.

This shows that Scotland is in a state of disorder. The witches also speak in riddles, “fair is foul and foul is fair” which gives the play an uneasy atmosphere, as does their language “Birth strangled babes”. The Witches mainly give the play an uneasy feel because they are violating God’s natural order. Noise also gives quite a tense atmosphere in the play. When Macbeth goes to kill Duncan, Lady Macbeth hears a knell (a traditional funeral bell), an owl shriek and crickets cry.

These are all signs of death and it makes Macbeth think that more people know about what Macbeth has done. Also when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are talking after the murder, there is a knocking which gives a very uneasy and tense feel. Also as the play goes on, Macbeth becomes very paranoid about any noise and it makes the play very tense. Colour does play a role in setting the atmosphere but only in one or two of the scenes. Red, of course is very important because of the amount of blood in the play. It also plays a big part because both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth talk about the ‘red misty hell’.

Linked with colour is the important use of light and dark ni the play to give an uneasy atmosphere. The already nauseating Witches always appears at night giving a very suspicious atmosphere to Macbeth when he meets them as I think sometimes he thinks the witches are just a dream or a figment of his imagination. Also all the murders take place at night which gives a creepy and scary feeling as the majority of the people who die don’t know who killed them. It is ironic that the only person who does die during the day in the play is Macbeth himself who wanted ‘stars hide your fires’ so he could kill duncan without heaven seeing what he was doing.

This also links with the references to hell and heaven. Lady Macbeth wants to go to hell for killing Duncan and she doesn’t want heaven to see it. At he end when Lady Macbeth is sleepwalking she needs light to bring the truth. It is like light is a metaphor for truth because all the lying and treachery happen in the dark. The weather really reflects the mood of the play (pathetic fallacy.) Whenever the witches are around there is rain.

Not only does the weatheer show the mood of the play, it also warns of things going wrong in the play. The fluid in the play is pivotal. All of the bad qualities of Lady Macbeth ‘drip’ into Macbeth and then into Scotland, by the end Macbeth is a forthright killing machine, Lady Macbeth is a nervous wreck who eventually kills herself and Scotland is in a complete mess. Before Duncan’s murder Lady Macbeth asks for her ‘blood to thicken to her heart’ to stop her feeling the pain of the murder.

Above all Macbeth is a play which relies heavily on the atmosphere it sets for the audience, which is a scary and eerie one.

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The Role of Atmosphere and Setting in Macbeth. (2018, Nov 24). Retrieved from