Porter Scene In Macbeth Essays

A porter moves through the hallway, going to answer the knocking. He grumbles about the noise, mocks the person doing the knocking and, after comparing himself to a porter at the gates of hell, asks ‘Who’s there, i’ th’ name of Beelzebub?’. Macduff and Lennox are revealed as the knockers and complain about the length of time needed to answer them; the porter reveals this was due to his being up late, which leads to a humorous ramble about the effects alcohol can have (these include red noses, sleepiness, urination, that it ‘provokes and unprovokes’ lechery, brings about lustfulness but can also create an inability to have sex). Macbeth enters and brings Macduff to Duncan’s chamber as the king declared a wish to see Macduff early that morning. After he enters, Lennox speaks to Macbeth of the storms from the night previous, claiming they were unparalleled to anything he can ever remember; chimneys were removed from the tops of houses, birds cried out throughout the night, the earth moved, and ghostly voices were heard issuing prophecies. Suddenly Macduff flees the room, crying ‘O horror, horror, horror!’, revealing that Duncan has been murdered. Macbeth and Lennox enter the chamber, while Lady Macbeth appears and speaks of the horror that the murder of a king could be committed in her own home. Malcolm and Donalbain arrive and are told their father has been murdered and that the murderers seem most likely to be the chamberlains, who were found with bloody daggers; Macbeth reveals in his anger he killed the chamberlains. Macduff is suspicious of Macbeth’s actions that Macbeth attempts to justify by remarking that such was his anger at the death of the king that he could not control himself. Lady Macbeth then faints, causing Macduff and Banquo to call for help, while Malcolm and Donalbain declare to each other that they are not safe as it seems likely their father’s murderer will seek them out next. While Lady Macbeth is removed and Banquo and Macbeth organize a meeting of the lords to discuss the recent events, Malcolm plans to move south to England while Donalbain will go west, across the water to Ireland.


While the start of the scene is often seen as simple comic relief from the darkness of the rest of the play, it serves some important purposes. The porter’s ramble about alcohol is a useful analogy to consider Macbeth’s situation, as he comments of how alcohol creates confusion and lust, which is applicable to Macbeth as his ambition has distorted his position and state of being; it also has allowed Lady Macbeth to make taunts of a sexual nature due to his inability or unwillingness to carry out the actions so as for Macbeth to realize his ambitions. His reference to the door of the castle being akin to the gate of hell is accurate, as there are dark deeds being undertaken inside. Finally, his mention of Beezlebub is a reference to the devil in Christian and biblical sources, and his warning to those entering that they are at the mercy of the devil is an interesting and perhaps useful view of Macbeth; he has killed God’s representative on earth (the king), has sought out the help of another deity (Neptune) and thus can be seen as a devil of sorts, opposed to Christianity. Certainly, his betrayal of Duncan is alluded to when the Porter remarks that he and his friends were ‘carousing till the second cock’ when explaining his delayed response to Macduff’s knocking; this can be associated with the cock crowing in the New Testament when Peter betrays Jesus (this ties in with the idea of the tragic hero also; as mentioned the fall of the tragic hero serves a purpose of worth, similar to how Peter was forgiven for his betrayal).

This might be linked to the later events of the scene, when Duncan’s is found in his chamber. Macbeth reveals that when he found the body he killed the chamberlains who he assumed were murderers, which reveals two things. Firstly, it shows how Macbeth is beyond absolution; now that the murder is complete he progresses further in his descent from his original point of virtue, completing the final acts needed to become king. However while he seems quite composed in this scene, none of the other characters seem to believe him fully. Malcolm asks Lennox about the murder later and Lennox remarks that ‘Those of his chamber, as it seemed, had done’t’, with the ‘as it seemed’ suggesting a disbelief in Macbeth’s interpretation of events. Not even Macbeth’s closest ally Banquo is convinced, and suggests meeting to discuss what has happened further: ‘let us meet/ And question this most bloody piece of work,/ To know it further’. Similarly, Macduff questions Macbeth concerning his actions, and will tell Ross and the old man later that he does not believe the words of the new king. This, and the porter’s words earlier, immediately set the scene for the remainder of the play; Duncan was seen as a fair leader, revered by all, and as a result the majority of his kingdom accepted their place in the natural order of things (it can be seen that the Thane of Cawdor was either an exception or perhaps a foreboding of what was to come with Macbeth). Macbeth, who is to become king, does not have the support of any, not even his closest ally. This forebodes his rule as king when many abandon him to join sides with the opposing forces and also shows what sort of rule his kingdom will bring; whereas previously under Duncan the kingdom was unified, in the new Scotland under Macbeth the king cannot be trusted. This suggests anarchy will result as his rule will not be followed and people will act sporadically and chaotically as they see fit, which will presumably lead to disorder, immorality, corruption, deception, and other negative influences.

Points of note

The confusing and conflicting world of the play is represented in the words of the characters such as the Porter, who speaks such words as ‘swear in both the scales/ against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven’ and comments of the castle and remarks that ‘this place is too cold for hell’. Elsewhere, Macduff speaks of ‘joyful trouble’ and how ‘confusion now hath made his masterpiece’ when speaking of Duncan’s death; such quotes represent a world once more where nothing is as it seems or should be.

Pathetic fallacy is used by Shakespeare to convey the mood of the scene; the mention that ‘’Twas a rough night’ refers not just to the weather but also the king and thus the kingdom. The rough night refers to the act of regicide and the upheaval that has already resulted, as the natural order of things has been disturbed.

Shakespeare does not allow us to forget about the gruesomeness of the act of regicide, with the frequent mentions of the blood in the aftermath reminding us of what has just occurred through such quotes as ‘the near’er in blood,/ the nearer bloody’ (Donaldbain), ‘the fountain of your blood, is stopped’ (Macbeth), ‘Their hands and faces were all badged with blood’ (Lennox), ‘silver skin laced with his golden blood’ (Macbeth) and ‘the most bloody piece of work’ (Banquo).

Macbeth seeks to deceive all around him that he killed the chamberlains out of anger at their supposed act of regicide, commenting ‘Who can be wise, amazed, temperate and furious,/ loyal and disloyal, in a moment? No man./ Th’ expedition of my love/ Outran the pauser, reason.’ However very few believe him; Malcolm shows his suspicion, remarking ‘to show an unfelt sorrow is an office/ which the false man does easy’, while Banquo comments that ‘when we have our naked frailties hid/ That suffer in exposure’. This might be seen to foreshadow that Macbeth will not be successful with his act of regicide, as Lady Macbeth convinced him would be the case earlier.

Banquo represents the moral barometer of the play. While others around him plot deception and immoral actions, he only considers the world in a good and just sense. He is not concerned so much with the circumstances surrounding the death but rather that a death has occurred, and focuses on the sorrow it brings by remarking death is ‘too cruel, anywhere’. There is a suggestion that he is suspicious of Macbeth and tells his friend ‘let us meet/ And question this most bloody piece of work,/ To know it further’, and he correctly forebodes that ‘fears and scruples shake us’; this is applicable to Lady Macbeth as her fainting foreshadows her decline into madness later.

Macbeth can be criticized here. Whereas before he showed some redeeming features as he struggled to counter his ambition, now that the act of regicide is complete he commits to this, acting brilliantly in an attempt to convince all that he killed the chamberlains as his ‘violent love/ Outran the passer, reason’ (even though some are suspicious, he does attain the crown soon after this). He shows no signs of remorse for what he has done, and despite his upsetting the natural order and creating ‘a breach in nature/ for ruin’s wasteful entrance’ he cares little that he has stopped the ‘fountain’ of royal blood. The quote at the end of the scene that ‘there’s warrant in that theft/ which teals itself when there’s no mercy left’ is applicable to Macbeth, as he has stolen Duncan’s life and title and has no mercy now. He has the cold callousness to declare ‘there’s nothing serious in mortality/ All is but toys’.

Lady Macbeth’s fainting may be seen as a foreboding of her eventual psychological decline.

Related Notes

Macbeths Porter

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The Light of Macbeth

Throughout the play The Tragedy of Macbeth, it is a non-stop action thriller with more blood than ever seen before in most plays. The play was made that way for a specific reason, so William Shakespeare made it the most bloody, gruesome and shortest of all his plays. Watching or even just reading, there is hardly ever any moment to be able to breathe. Except one scene….
In Act II, Scene 3, Macbeth’s porter appears in the play. There is absolutely no reason for the porter to be in the play. He has nothing to do with the written script what so ever. He is not related to anyone of any importance, or anyone at all. He has no great speeches with much meaning attached to it. He is just a perverted, gross talking, drunk. He goes against everything in their world that is moral and right. The porter defies it all and comes out of the play as a comedian. Why did William Shakespeare put the porter in his play, The Tragedy of Macbeth!
A lot of people look on the porter as just an interruption of the play, and that he should not even be there. But I disagree; I wouldn’t call him an interruption. I’d call him an Intermission; he came in the play when needed most. The audience needed a break from the play. The entire thing was filled with hatred, betrayal, and blood. The porter is Shakespeare’s transition period. Every play needs some comedy, but no more than this play, The Tragedy. The porter wasn’t just there to make the audience laugh; he was there for a reason. Shakespeare always had a reason for everything, it would be uncharacteristic for him not to with the porter.
The porter enters the story immediately after the murder of King Duncan, perhaps for some relief, and that relief being; drunken comedy. Is the porter just comical relief? I don’t believe so, he may have made some laughs, but he also creates more tension rather than relieving it. In Act II, Scene 2, Lady Macbeth comes back from the crime scene with blood all over her. The knocking she hears against the gate obviously frightens both her and Macbeth for they have just committed a horrendous crime. Macbeth is already paranoid for he is beginning to go crazy. Lady Macbeth is new to the whole killing crime thing, so to hear knocking on your front door after an event like that would freak anyone out.

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I know I would be scared. I would wonder who’s at the door, what’s going on?
Right after Lady Macbeth leaves to go “clean up the mess,” there is an immediate loud knocking on the gate.

Whence is that knocking?
How is’t with me, when every noise appalls me?
What hands are here? Ha! They pluck out mine eyes!
With all Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red
(Act II Scene 2)

As you could see Macbeth is already going crazy, and with the knocking it’s worse. Now the audience wonders who is at the door. Will they be caught? When Lady Macbeth comes back from the scene she too hears the knocking. “I hear a knocking at the south entry. Retire we to our chamber.” Act II, Scene 2. So now they run from the knocking not knowing what is, still assuming the worst. And the audience is still left with a question mark above their heads just wondering who’s at the door. They can’t let that go, especially at a critical moment in the story such as King Duncan’s death.

Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter
of hell gate, he should have old turning the key.
(Knock) Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ th’ name
of Beelzelbub?
(Act II, Scene 3)

The porter obviously hears the knocking, but instead of opening the door, he mocks the knocking with his drunken comedy. When he says, “ i’ th’ name of Beelzelbub?” He is saying that the devil is here at this castle and that is whom they worship, which is ironic for it has just recently become hell. But the audience at this moment can’t figure that out or even laugh because they still have the same question prowling around in their head, for the audience is still in suspense mode. They still wonder and question, who is at the door?
The porter may be a drunken idiot and a fool, but Shakespeare utilizes his character to slip in little comments that very few catch on while attending the play. Not because it is difficult but considering the circumstances of what had happened before it might be a little hard. The porter already called Macbeth the chief devil.

(Knock) Knock, knock, knock!
Who’s there, in th’ other devil’s name?
Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in
both the scales against either scale; who committed
treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equiv-
ocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator.

The porter now calls Lady Macbeth the other devil. He says that he hopes that it’s a person the opposite of them and come in to get “the devils” and send them to heaven. Shakespeare uses the porter’s drunken comedy to slip in some things for the audience to catch. He does not release the porter’s full comedy ability yet, until he opens the door and we can rest easy knowing who was at the door. Macduff and Lennox now enter through the door, so now we are able to rest easy and just laugh at the porter rambling. Now the transition phase can begin for the long awaited door has been open. It’s time to laugh.

…and drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things.
…nosepainting, sleep, and urine… it provokes
the desire, but it takes away the performance:
therefore much drink may be said to be an equivocator…
(Act II, Scene 3)

Now Shakespeare allows the audience to just sit and relax for the remainder of the porter. For in this play it is our only time to relax. So in conclusion the [orter was first used to slip in some information while we still on the edge or our seats for he couldn’t go into the comedy immediately. Then as soon as we are able to relax (somewhat) the stand-up comedian “The porter” begins and we laugh to forget about the worries but not for long…

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