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What is the significance of the Porter speech in Act 2 sc3? What does he symbolize in...

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dani-a | Student, Grade 9 | eNotes Newbie

Posted September 30, 2011 at 7:07 PM via web

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What is the significance of the Porter speech in Act 2 sc3? What does he symbolize in his speech?

I want to know how it influences the mood of the play so far and also does he hint at some qualities and fears of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

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samantha96 | Student, Grade 11 | Honors

Posted September 30, 2011 at 8:31 PM (Answer #1)

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The Porter's scene in Macbeth seems to be completely out of context with the dark themes and atmosphere in the play, although Shakespeare purposely does this to create some comedy and relieve the tension of some of the previous scenes. This is mostly done for the audience's benefit.

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 19, 2013 at 1:19 PM (Answer #2)

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The Porter does not refer to the Macbeths directly, but he stands in direct contrast to them and thereby makes the audience appreciate their complex motives, their ambitions, their villainy, their egotism, and their vanity. The Porter is ignorant, innocent, simple, and harmless. He lives from day to day. He has no grandiose hopes or expectations. His interests are limited to eating, drinking, and sex. He might be said to symbolize common humanity, the people whose lives are governed and misgoverned by people like the Macbeths. We can’t help liking the Porter and disliking Lord and Lady Macbeth at the same time. The comic relief provided by the Porter scene makes us realize that the Macbeths take themselves too seriously. They are human themselves, after all, but they don’t seem to realize their insignificance in the cosmic scheme of things.

Macbeth had planned to kill Duncan and then hide in his chamber, pretending to have been sound asleep along with his innocent wife when the body was discovered. A persistent knocking forces him to come down in his nightgown to find out why no one is opening the gate. The Porter’s drunken condition explains the knocking. But now Shakespeare has solved the problem of getting Macbeth onstage when Duncan’s body is discovered and everybody in the castle is awakened by Macduff’s outcries and the ringing of the alarm bell. The body has to be discovered, and the discovery is much more effective dramatically if the guilt-ridden murderer is present when it happens. This is the first time Macduff appears in the play, and it is the only time Macbeth and Macduff, the protagonist and antagonist, will appear together before their death duel at the very end. Macduff will be well aware of Macbeth’s strange behavior, but he will not understand it until long after he has discovered the King’s body. Then he will feel certain that Macbeth was responsible for the murder, and this will motivate him to be the first of the thanes to turn against the usurper.

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