What is the significance of the porter's scene of Act 2 Scene 3 in Macbeth?

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To me, this is a bit of foreshadowing.  The porter keeps talking about Hell and Beelzebub and things like that.  He talks about the kinds of people who might knock for admittance into Hell and compares himself to the gatekeeper of Hell.

This implies that the castle (Inverness) is Hell and that really bad things happen there.  Of course, he is right -- Duncan has already been killed here (although he does not know it yet).

In addition, this implies that Macbeth is the ruler of Hell.  It implies that Macbeth's rule will turn Scotland into a hell as well.

Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the porter scene of Shakespeare's Macbeth, Inverness, Macbeth's castle, is depicted as hell.  This depiction is an echo of what's just occurred in the castle (Duncan's assassination), as well as foreshadowing of what's to come as the editor stated above.

The porter scene serves other purposes, as well.  First, the scene is comic relief.  The play achieves a height of intensity when Duncan is assassinated, Macbeth feels tremendous guilt, he forgets to leave the bloody daggers in the chamber with the grooms, etc.  Suspense and intensity are at a high level here. 

But intensity cannot stay a a high level forever, and the body of Duncan will be discovered soon.  Shakespeare must lower the intensity quickly, so that he can raise it again when the body is discovered.  The porter scene, with its comedy, accomplishes this.

The scene is more than comedy, however.  Most notably, the theme of equivocation is expounded on during the scene.  The porter explains that an equivocator is one who could lie on both sides of the scale of justice, and sound believable in both cases.  A tailor who skimps on his material, substituting cheap cloth for expensive, is also an equivocator.  "Drink" is an equivocator. 

There is more to this scene, but its use as comic relief and its furthering of the theme of equivocation should answer your question.

Here is a film adaptation of the scene:

lit24 | Student

The "porter scene" in Act II Sc.3 is significant for the following reasons:

1. Comic Relief: the porter's speech is ribald and would have appealed to the coarse nature of the "groundlings," especially these lines which refer to the after effects of the consumption of excess alcohol:


What three things does drink especially provoke?


Marry, sir, nose-painting, sleep, and
urine. Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes;
it provokes the desire, but it takes
away the performance: therefore, much drink
may be said to be an equivocator with lechery:
it makes him, and it mars him; it sets
him on, and it takes him off; it persuades him,
and disheartens him; makes him stand to, and
not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him
in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him.

This scene immediately follows an intensely tragic scene in which, according to the medieval "Divine Right" of Kings, God's own representative on earth has been murdered by Macbeth. For the contemporary Elizabethan audience,  Macbeth's treacherous act almost amounts to killing God himself. The Porter Scene which follows immediately provides the much needed relief to the emotions and the feelings of the audience.

2. Ironic contrast: Macbeth's castle has indeed become "hell" because Macbeth has murdered Duncan the King of Scotland, God's own representative on earth. The comic scene serves as a foil to the tragic scene which precedes it and thus, increases its intensity.

3. Prosodic contrast: the Porter's speech is in prose in keeping with his low social status, unlike the rest of the play which is in blank verse.

4. Social satire: The social satire behind the references to the "farmer," the "tailor" and the "equivocator" would have been immediately understood by Shakespeare's contemporary audience.

diali | Student

It is a very important part of the play..as the murder has been comitted and the audience are experiencing the anxiet at the peak so to provide them with the comic relief shakespeare wrote this scene with a full prose while the whole play is in poetry which also signifies the comparitively lower class of the porter and remember that the porter is drunk here..

Another significance of this scene is that the porter signifies as the one who is opening the gate to enter te hell and he talks about Belzebub and the everlasting fire. Ironically the castle is a hell and Macbeth is the cruel God in the porter scene..

khushboom1 | Student

The porter next fancies that three men, a farmer, a Jesuit equivocator and an English tailor knock for admission. Commenting on the farmer, the porter says: “Here’s a farmer, that hang’d himself on th’ expectation of plenty: come in, time-server, have napkins enow about you; here you’ll sweat for’t”. A farmer who hoarded corn expecting to make money, committed suicide as the price of the crops dropped due to bounteous harvest. The porter asks him to bring many hand kerchiefs to wipe away the sweat because the hell is very hot. The porter imagines the second applicant for the entrance into hell to be a believer in equivocation who can say yes and no to the same question to suit his purpose. But the equivocation has not opened the gate of heaven i.e. pleased God, and he has to knock at 6the gate of Hell. The porter next, imagines the third knocker as the English tailor come to heat his iron. Finally, the porter finds the place too cool for hell and says, “I’ll devil porter it no further”.

frobscottle | Student

This scene actually shows what happens tp people if they sin . As a gatekeeper,the porter has witnessed people of all sorts of profession waiting to be let in.

The hell here can also refer to macbeth's castle INVERNESS. It beacme the tomb of duncan and it must have been the porter who might have opened the doors to him. The porter speaks of a farmer who haged himself as his expectations for a profit from harvest was at a toss. Secondly an equivocator ,a two faced con man who even lied to god that he ended up in perjury.Thirdly a tailor who used to skimp from peoples clothes ,but when tight clothes came into fashion had to stop his habit

suvini | Student

can this be known as eqvivocation??