What might the effect of the following sound effects be to the audience in "Macbeth"?a)the bell at the end of Act Two, Scene 1? b)the owl referred to in Act Two, Scene 2? c)the knocking that ends...

What might the effect of the following sound effects be to the audience in "Macbeth"?

a)the bell at the end of Act Two, Scene 1?

b)the owl referred to in Act Two, Scene 2?

c)the knocking that ends Act Two,Scene 2 and continues in Scene 3?

d)the "alarum bell" in Act Two, Scene 3?

Expert Answers
karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

All of the sounds listed occur in Act II, which is the act of the play in which Macbeth murders Duncan. The sounds all disturb Macbeth within the play; as he commits the murder and in its immediate aftermath, he is paranoid and jumpy. The sound effects included in Act II work to emphasize his fears and also add to the mood of Act II for the audience. These sounds also take on symbolic significance to the audience.

a) The bell at the end of Act II, scene i: After walking around the castle grounds and running into Banquo even as he knows he is about to commit the murder, Macbeth hears a bell ring. He says,

I go, and it is done. The bell invites me.

Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell

That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

The bell tolls the death "knell" of Duncan. This sound symbolically means that Duncan is about to be murdered. The bells would be rung to indicate the death of the king, so this could also be considered a bit of foreshadowing. Macbeth says that "the bell invites" him to commit the crime, which is also a way of him distancing himself from the act he is about to commit.

b) The owl referred to in Act II, scene ii: The owl is referenced by Lady Macbeth when Macbeth returns from killing Duncan. The husband and wife have the following exchange:

MACBETH I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?

LADY MACBETH I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry. Did not you speak?

Here, Macbeth is asking if she heard a noise, presumably, whether she heard him committing the crime or the sounds he thought / imagined he heard from Duncan's sons in the chambers next door. Lady Macbeth's response that she "heard the owl scream and the crickets cry" could be taken two ways: one, she heard only the sounds of nature and Macbeth is paranoid; two, she is making an early reference to something we hear about later in Act II, which is that the unnatural act of the murder of the king leads nature to act unnaturally, as well.

c) the knocking that ends scene 2 and starts scene 3: The knocking begins, seemingly, as another symptom of Macbeth's paranoia, but it eventually turns out to be Macduff knocking at the castle door, trying to see Duncan. This could cause anxiety for the audience because of the noise itself but also because once Macduff is let in, he will discover the murder and Macbeth may be held accountable.

d) the alarum bell in Act II, scene iii: Macduff screams for the alarum bell to be rung after he discovers the king has been murdered. He exclaims,

Awake, awake!

Ring the alarum bell. Murder and treason!

Banquo and Donalbain! Malcolm! Awake!

Shake off this downy sleep, death’s counterfeit,

And look on death itself! Up, up, and see T

he great doom’s image! Malcolm! Banquo!

As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites,

To countenance this horror! Ring the bell...

The bell is meant to signal that there is an emergency, namely that the king is dead. The alarm will alert everyone who can hear it to this. The audience, though we already know Duncan is dead before Macduff does, feels upset and concerned hearing Macduff's reaction and the bell. We wonder what will happen next and whether the crime will be uncovered.

amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The audience will be intense on the action, and these sound effects will effect them as profoundly as they do the actors involved on the stage.

For instance, the audience is well aware that the bell in Act II, scene i is the signal for Macbeth to move toward Duncan's room and commit the murder.  Macbeth's comment is, "I go, and it is done.  The bell invites me.  Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell."  The bell would have the effect of ominous events to come, the audience would be on the edge of its seat with anticipation.

The owl mentioned in Act II, scene ii would also be an ominous warning.  The audience would see both the owl and the crickets as prophetic of death.

LIkewise, the knocking would effect them in much the same way.  The deed is done by this time, and like Macbeth, the audience might wish that it had not been committed.  Macbeth states, "Wake Duncan with thy knocking!  I would thou couldst!"  The audience, like Macbeth will recognize the deed as an evil one, and now the plot is in motion.  The deed will not go unpunished.

The trumpet and the alarm bell in Act II, sc iii would indicate the Last Judgment.  It is also a prophetic and tense effect.  Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are guilty, and time will tell what their punishment will be for taking the life a man so greatly loved that even the earth and the creatures on it rebuke his foul murder.