Discuss how Elizabethan audiences would have reacted to the first Act of Macbeth Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 08:25:56
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Shakespeare wrote Macbeth during an age in which the supernatural was a part of everyday life for the people of England. Prior to the wave of Christianity that swept through England, local chieftains and ordinary citizens had been firm believers in witchcraft, spells and fairies. King James had written books on the subject, giving the subject credibility in the eyes of his people. The idea of demons and witches tempting good people to do bad things was widely accepted, especially since the Bible itself made references to the devil. The introduction of the witches in the very first scene of Macbeth would have created a very intriguing effect and would have been accepted by the audience.

Another fact that played an important role in the way Shakespeares audiences reacted to his plot was the social order and the hierarchy of the spectators who watched his plays. Only three classes existed which were the rich, the merchant middle class and the poor class. Shakespeares plays were performed at the Globe theatre which acted as a model for other theatres around the country. It is said that the balconies on top were the most expensive seats and these seats were occupied by the rich and noble people at the time.

The next sets were the rows of seats on either side of the stage which the merchant and middle class would view the play from. The lowest category of people occupied the area immediately in front of the stage, an area which stretched far back into the theater where the view was obscured by walls and other obstacles. Crowds were often herded tightly to fit in as many as possible in the smallest amount of space. This was the method of seating at the time. We deduce that all three classes of society had gone to the theatre to watch the play for various different reasons.

It is clear that each segment of the audience would have viewed Macbeth from different perspectives to the first Act of the play. The first scene of the first act would not have been a familiar theme to the educated and rich people in the balconies as they lived in a world of wealth, money and luxury far from witch craft, demons, hatred and evil. The dark and gloomy stage in this scene would have been very different from their well-lit, large and luxurious homes It is something they would not have been able to relate to except the fact that they knew that it was just a play which was based on supernatural elements that were common in that era.

On the other hand, the middle and lower classes would have focused more on the dramatic structure and elements in the scene. For example, In thunder, lightning or in rain? (Act 1 Sc.1 Ln. 2) gives an audience a feeling of iniquity because in those days the belief was that bad weather was a sign from God showing unhappiness and anger. When the hurly burlys done when the battles lost and won (Act 1 Sc. 1 Ln. 4), the unnatural rhyming conversation would have all conveyed to an exciting sense of horror.

Another factor of the scene that should be taken into consideration is that not all of the conversation makes sense for example if you take Fair is foul, and foul is fair ¦ (Act 1 Sc. 1 Ln. 12),The audience are also told that the witches will return, this eccentric way of speaking gets the audience thinking and brings a sense of eagerness to see what happens next. Moreover, this scene would also have reminded them of their own streets, with poor lighting, and the small dark homes they lived in.

Similarly the three segments of the audience would have reacted differently to Lady Macbeths soliloquy. As she finishes reading the letter from her husband, various feelings of greed and temptation enter her mind. She also has feelings of doubt and uncertainty she felt that Macbeth lacked courage and would not commit such an atrocious act, yet do I fear thy nature, It is too full othmilk of human kindness¦. (Act 1 Sc. 5 Ln. 15). She then calls upon evil to remove her femininity from her.

The intensity of this speech must have given all three segments of the audience a sense of trepidation and for some an enormous sense of rage and disgust. The raven himself is hoarse¦ (Act 1 Sc 5 Ln. 7),She uses raven which is recognized as an evil bird. unsex me here¦(Act 1 Sc.5 Ln.9), She wanted all the characteristics a woman had to have in those days, removed from her. Women were expected to be meek and gentle, no matter what the husband did. So if any female protested, she was immediately branded a bad woman in the minds of society.

Some noble classes in the audience would be able to understand this as they too were probably experiencing similar situations in their lives. It was known that the audience lived in a patriarchy where woman had no power of their own. These women who were married to rich and superior men would often bully them for the married couple to rise in the hierarchy because that was the only way a woman could get a significant amount of power. Thus it would have appeared natural to the wealthier audience that this strong woman was able to force her husband to commit the ultimate crime, murder. It is likely that many in the audience would have also sympathized with Macbeth.

It is also likely that some women in the audience were women who accepted the patriarchy system and did not question their husbands and were always willing to stay at the bottom of the hierarchy. These women would have found it difficult to imagine that such women existed.

The other two segments of the audience would not have questioned the fact that Lady Macbeth could drive her husband to murder their king. These were people who never had any power and even the smallest possible notion of them being king would drive them into an immeasurable amount of temptation. The poor audiences, which would have certainly included men and women from the criminal classes, may have already committed heinous crimes before, would have had no problem with the idea of killing the king.

Macbeths long speech, in which he battles with the enormity of the crime he is going to commit, would certainly have obtained different reactions from the audience. In his speech he has an enormous amount of uncertainty in him. His confidence is almost destroyed as he tries to fight his conscience. As I have said before, religion was a key factor in those days. They did believe that committing an act as immense as killing the king, was such a heinous crime, because to the audience it was going against God himself. So clear in his great office, that his virtues will plead like angels, trumpet tongued against the deep damnation of his taking off.(Act 1 Sc. 7 Ln.20), In those days people were firm believers in the divine right of kings. It was a belief that said that only God could choose the king and nobody else.

Macbeth never refers to the crime he is about to commit as murder. He alters the word by using various less dissonant synonyms like assassination, surcease, bear the knife and taking off. The educated audiences would have recognized the speech and reacted accordingly to the significance of the lines and Macbeths guilt overcoming him. In my opinion, it is very likely that the middle and lower classes would soon have got bored due to the length of this speech, which does not have much excitement and horror as the soliloquy of Lady Macbeth.

No matter which category the audience belonged, the use of magic and supernatural features on stage would have been a thrilling source of entertainment! The witches, thunder and lightening and murder would have delighted Shakespeares audiences as much as todays ideas of aliens existing and high-tech special effects thrill us! In conclusion, it can be said that the Shakespearean audience cannot be classified as of one type only. Social backgrounds, levels of education and religious elements all played a role in the way each spectator reacted to Macbeth and his actions.

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