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The Porter is a minor character in "Macbeth" who serves as the doorkeeper at Macbeth's castle. Immediately after the murder of King Duncan, the Porter appears in response to the knock at the gate. He is still drunk from the festivities of the night before, and he serves as a humorous break in the play from the tension and gory bloodshed the murder of Duncan produced. He pretends to be the gatekeeper of Hell in his drunken state, which is not too far from the truth since Macbeth and his wife should have been excellent hosts instead of heartless murderers. This parallism of Macbeth's castle with Hell also underlines the fact that Macbeth has just lost his soul in murdering his King and cousin.
Scene 3 of Act II of Macbeth is an example of comic relief that is used in tragedy; however, in this comic scene, the horror is intensified by this particular comic relief for different reasons:
- The mention of "equivocator...who committed treason," has caused critics to believe that the allusion is to the Jesuit priest Father Henry Garnet, known as the "Great Equivocator," who was a conspirator in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 [see link below], thus identifying the porter as one who is not as foolish as he acts; rather, he is knowledgeable of what has previously occurred.
- With the porter pretending to be the keeper of the gates of Hell"--"I'll devil porter it no further"--the clown presages the horror to come and the fates of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. This pretense also underscores the depravity of the killing of Duncan.
- The comparisons of the foolish, drunken porter and the devilish porter of Hell and Inverness underscore the moral depravity of the regicide just committed by Macbeth.
- This scene evokes tension and urgency, leading audiences to wonder about the outcome of Macbeth's murderous act as he and Lady Macbeth appear in their ghostly clothing, their nightgowns, as they are awakened by the knocking that the porter refuses to answer.
- When the porter opens the door he says, "I pray you, remember the porter" (3.2.21), causing the audience to later wonder what was implied with this request. Perhaps, he has intended for all to be awakened that Macduff, Lennox, and the other can witness how Macbeth and Lady Macbeth react when Duncan is found.
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