Recently, I have been feeling as though I’d abandoned Macbeth for The Bloody Chamber on this blog. (Hence, the random jump from Carter to Shakespeare) This question has been taken from the June 2012 paper.
Consider the significance of darkness and concealment in the play. Macbeth – William Shakespeare
Through the use of darkness and concealment, Shakespeare not only serves the purpose of lending the play to the Gothic genre, but both elements also work as a catalyst in order to trigger future events in Macbeth.
Darkness is heavily sighted as being associated with evil in the play, seen in Lady Macbeth’s monologue. The femme fatale character calls “come,thick night” when she asks to be unsexed by “spirits.” Here, Shakespeare associates night time with the unnatural and thus comments on how darkness can sometimes cloak the “human kindness” in a person. Here, night time is used to mask the kindness associated with femininity, and therefore Lady Macbeth is able to cloak herself in “thick” darkness in order to become a key component in Duncan’s death. This is significant in revealing character in Macbeth. It could be argued that Lady Macbeth calling on the “dunnest smoke of hell” to fill her with evil suggests that she incapable of such brutality, and needs the supernatural to assist her. Thus, Lady Macbeth is not wholly corrupted as it is the darkness of the night that gives her the ability to be a bearer of such evil. On the other hand, it may also be argued that this in fact enhances Lady Macbeth’s inner dark side. The idea that she consciously recognises the need for “murdering ministers” to provide her with the support to assist Macbeth in regicide certainly falls in favour of arguing that she willingly has the desire for help from the darker realms, making her more evil for actually wanting to be tainted by the poisonous associations of “darkness” in the play.
In addition, concealment is a significant device employed into the plot of Macbeth. In Act 3 scene 2, Macbeth hides his dark plans away from Lady Macbeth. Through concealment, Shakespeare allows readers to gain an insight to the ever-changing relationship between the couple. Macbeth tells his wife to “be innocent of the knowledge” and thus refuses to reveal any more of the plot. Indeed, it could be argued that Macbeth has developed mistrust in their relationship and has become aware that “loyalty” may not be what it seems; self-acknowledged, shown by his attitude towards Banquo. By insisting that she “present [Banquo] eminence” at the banquet, Shakespeare echoes a similar in tone with the way Macbeth questions Banquo. Through emphasising Banquo’s presence at the feast to both characters, Macbeth learns that loyalty can be deceiving and therefore he needs to keep Lady Macbeth in the dark as she may interfere with his plans. This is mirrored earlier in the scene, where Macbeth says “we have scorched the snake, not killed it” and conclusively reveals he is conscious about the “former tooth” that could hinder his plan.
Acts 17:11 in the Bible quotes that “sin grows in the dark.” Act 3 Scene 3 in Macbeth certainly seems to argue the latter. When the “first Murderer strikes out the light,” Banquo dies. Not only does this provide a technical function to the live play, but symbolises a downward spiral of events for Macbeth’s venture in becoming King. Thus, darkness is significant in foreshadowing Macbeth’s fall as it becomes the setting for many evil events such as murder, witchcraft and the calling upon dark spirits. Banquo’s death symbolises a broken friendship, as well as provides a stimulus in order to trigger redemption in Macbeth. Certainly, it is believed that Banquo’s ghost highlights the guilt in Macbeth, and therefore the metaphorical darkness that Macbeth experiences through the event is important in serving a purposeful function in the play. This is also evident in Lady Macbeth’s monologue, as she cries “Come, thick night, And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell.” Here, Shakespeare uses the darkness of the night to equip Lady Macbeth with the ability to persuade Macbeth to murder. In addition, Shakespeare associates night time with the “dunnest smoke of hell” and therefore alludes to the idea of darkness being a place for evil, as the female Gothic uses it to cloak her feminine instincts. It could be argued that through this darkness is used as a matter to reveal character as it cannot be said that Lady Macbeth is wholly evil. The fact Lady Macbeth has to call on the darkness of the supernatural in order to help her, shows that she is not as capable of evil as she appears; shown later in her spiral of madness that leads to her eventual death.
Conversely, it can also be said that although darkness and equivocation play a significant role in the play, it is not as important as the supernatural. Some may say that it is through the weird sisters that these chains of events occur; therefore, if Macbeth had not learned the prophecies from the witches: he would not have to be set on a serial event of murders.
Although it is the witches that ultimately trigger these events, it is the darkness behind the intentions of the weird sisters that are able to contaminate the “milk of human kindness” in Macbeth, and the concealment of inner desires that finally set Macbeth in an inescapable chain of events.