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Imagery influences atmosphere as well as meaning in Macbeth in a number of ways. The first stage direction in Act 1, scene 1 gives the audience a glimpse, through both sight and sound, of the dark and stormy world they are about to encounter: “An open Place. Thunder and Lightning.” Images of darkness, rain, and fog abound in the play, and they underscore the degree to which what is happening in the human realm is reflected in the world of Nature. Shakespeare does not confine himself to visual images, but will use sound to heighten the tension of a scene and to reveal the mental and emotional state of the characters. After Macbeth kills Duncan, the sounds he hears stand in sharp contrast to the stillness of the night: Macbeth. “I have done the deed.—Didst thou not hear a noise?” LADY MACBETH. “I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry.” Images become themselves motifs in the play. Lady Macbeth’s increasing obsession with blood, echoed by Macbeth’s references to the bloody deeds he cannot seem to stop from committing, underscore how the violence that made Macbeth a king will follow him to his own violent downfall. Imagery helps us understand the characters in the tragedy, the world they live in, and ultimately the reason that world rejects them.
Shakespeare uses weather in his tragedies to express the disruptions in nature that evil creates. In the early part of the play, the appearance of the witches is accompanied by thunder and lightening. Drama is added to the scene, almost as if the weather is another character in the scene designed to enhance our understanding of the seriousness of the situation. Later in the play animals act out of character another example that nature or the natural order has been disturbed.
In Shakespeare's world there are forces of good and evil. When the two are out of balance, such as when great evil is unleashed, by the witches, by the murders, by wars, he uses the images of disturbed nature to emphasize how evil unravels the very fabric of human existence. At some point positive events must cancel out the evil. Thereby restoring the balance of nature. In the end the circle of evil is closed by the deaths of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and by Malcolm becoming the rightful and true king.
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