In the porter's speech in Macbeth Act 2, scene 3 (lines 11-38): a) Why is the character saying it? b) What do these lines reveal about the Porter? c) What significant imagery, metaphor,...

In the porter's speech in Macbeth Act 2, scene 3 (lines 11-38):

a) Why is the character saying it?

b) What do these lines reveal about the Porter?

c) What significant imagery, metaphor, symbolism, or poetry is there?

Thank you. It's for my Final and I need to understand the text.

Expert Answers
durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act II, scene iii, the porter in Macbeth enters the scene in response to a knocking at the entrance to Macbeth's castle. He is Macbeth's gatekeeper and it is ironic that he should imagine that he is actually the porter at "hell-gate" (2), in other words at the entrance to Hell itself. The reader is able to reflect on the truth of his words because of Duncan's murder which the characters do not yet know about. The dramatic scene which precedes the Porter's appearance has time to be absorbed. The reader now knows that Macbeth is deeply affected by what he has done but Lady Macbeth has no remorse and is happy to wash her hands to "clear us of this deed" (II.ii.67). The audience has no idea that the roles will be reversed and that Macbeth has only just started. The audience feels able to relax after the tension of the preceding scene and the porter's comic scene ensures that a more relaxed audience will be all the more shocked by Macbeth's transformed character. The Porter's words foreshadow the tragic events that follow which at this stage not even the audience knows.

a) Line 11 starts with "Who's there? Faith, here's an English tailor..." The porter is warning the audience that seemingly harmless words and actions can mean far more than they first appear to and that those in respected professions (such as a tailor) who "go the primrose way" (20) may still find themselves in hell. Pretty things like primroses only give the appearance of goodness and do in fact hide the evil beneath. 

b) The porter makes little real sense blaming drink for his babbling. Just as the porter reveals what drink provokes, he adds that "it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance" (28). Macbeth will prove that the desire to be king which the witches provoke in him prevents him from rising to the task of being all that is good, noble and deserving; his "vaulting ambition" (I.vii.27) prevents Macbeth's own "performance." The porter therefore reinforces the irrational decision made by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth who appear to be noble and worthy. This reveals that the porter is far more intuitive than he may appear.  

c) The porter does not have the education to speak in eloquent verse and the prose style is indicative of this. However, his words are full of symbolism as he effectively compares Macbeth's castle to hell itself. He rambles on about irrelevant infractions committed by, for example, an English tailor who has been caught out and will find himself at the gates to hell. He continues on, suggesting that in hell the tailor can continue his trade. "Roast your goose" (12) implies that the tailor can heat up his flat iron but its significance goes far beyond that; the audience begins to see that this hell he describes could easily be any place on earth because it is not that different. It may be right in front of them and, in fact, it is.

Lines 36 to 38 are particularly poignant as the porter, a simple man, recognizes that he must defeat drink or it will have the better of him. He admits that "he took up my legs sometime" and Shakespeare uses personification here to reveal how powerful the urges to succumb (to drink) are for the porter, yet he "made a shift to cast him" meaning that the porter, despite his weaknesses, recognizes that the images that drink creates are nothing more than a "lie." Unfortunately, Macbeth's realization comes too late. He has sold his soul to that very devil the porter alludes to.