How does Shakespeare build up the feeling of tension and suspense in Act 2 Scene 2?
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Early in the scene, suspense is built with confusion of off-stage voices and what Macbeth hears or thinks he hears. First, from off stage, Macbeth asks, "Who's there?" indicating that he thinks someone is about when there shouldn't be anyone except his wife. Then he comes on-stage and asks Lady Macbeth if she heard the sounds. She is perplexed and doesn't understand because she only heard Macbeth. Macbeth goes on to tell her he heard voices praying and one called out "Murder". Then, he says he heard a voice call out, "Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep." The voice goes on in this same vein according to Macbeth and he doesn't know who it was or where the voice came from. In this high anxiety scene where Macbeth has just murdered Duncan, the confusion of voices and sounds creates a great deal of tension.
This is an extremely dramatic scene and Shakespeare sets the stage for the bloody murder with the "owl that shriek'd, the fatal bellman," as even nature cries out against the murder of Duncan. Lady Macbeth fears that the murder is unaccomplished, yet when Macbeth enters, he says, "I have done the deed." Suspense is heightened here by the quick exchange of dialogue between husband and wife:
"Did you not speak?"
"As I descended?"
Through these brief interchanges, the urgency of the moment is apparent. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth fear someone has heard them and the fear the guards will reawaken. The audience also wonders whether they will be caught or get away with their heinous crime. Next, Lady Macbeth must revisit the death chamber to dispatch the guards. Both husband and wife have Duncan's blood on their hands, literally and metaphorically! Again, Shakespeare uses sound to engage the audience in the suspense, as a knocking is heard...and more knocking. At this point, they must quickly retire to their bedchambers to appear as if they have been asleep. The immediacy of the situation is created with Macduff knocking at the castle and entering in the ensuing scene.
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