How does Shakespeare create atmosphere in Act II, Scene 2 of Macbeth by making use of literary devices?e.g. Puns, Metaphors, and Onomatopoeia

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Since realistic scenery was minimal and lighting could not be controlled on the Elizabethan stage, an atmosphere of death, phantasmagoria, and guilt is created in Act II, Scene 2 of Macbeth through the use of dialogue with choice words and literary devices such as imagery, metaphors, and puns.

In the beginning of the scene, the shriek of the owl is a metaphor for the "fatal bellman," the bell rung at midnight outside a condemned person's cell on execution night.  This metaphor creates a mood of death and guilt as the drugged guards sleep while Lady Macbeth reflects that she could have committed the murder of King Duncan had he not resembled her father.

When Macbeth enters, he tells Lady Macbeth that he has done the deed; however, he remarks that he has heard a voice cry,

"Sleep no more!” to all the house;
“Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor
Shall sleep no more. Macbeth shall sleep no more.” (2.2.53-55)

This pun upon sleep means that Macbeth will not rest; instead, he will constantly suffer anxiety from the threat to his leadership and his guilt. Similarly, the metaphor of blood is part of the phantasmagoria, or complex succession of things seen or imagined that signify both death and guilt.

Further, the onomatopoeic "knocking" that both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth hear is the pounding of their hearts in guilt as, for instance, Macbeth asks:

Whence is that knocking?
How is't with me, when every noise appals me? (2.2.73-74) 

And, while Lady Macbeth chastises him for his fears, she, too, hears the "knocking," but believes that they can wash away their guilt: "How easy is it then!"(2.2.85)

Through the use of dialogue, metaphor and other literary devices, clearly, Shakespeare creates his atmosphere of phantasmagoria, death, and guilt in Act II, Scene 2, of Macbeth.