Macbeth, II, iii, 1-94
After Macbeth’s regicide, the attention of the audience shifts to the Porter, an eccentric character full of humor. The dark, wicked atmosphere of scene ii is replaced by the Porter’s comical speech. However, Macbeth’s lustful ambitions return to the front scene, embodied by his hypocrisy and feigned pain at Duncan’s death, which only the audiencefully understands. During this passage, the deep nature of his character is discovered through the Porter’s monologues, his deceitful attitude and the audience’s major importance.
The scene opens with the introduction of a new unnamed character, the Porter. Despite being at first sight only a door opener, his speech offers comic relief to the play as well as interesting analogies withMacbeth’s defining traits. In a play, comic relief is a device used by the writer which consists in introducing a comical character or dialogue, most of the time to relieve tension in the midst of escalating tension. Here, after Duncan’s assassination and a very tense moment, the scene around which the whole plot revolves, comes the humorous porter and his long speech in prose.
This particularity is themost obvious difference with the previous scenes: the iambic verses of the noblemen are replaced by day-to-day life prose, reflecting how the character would speak in real life. This difference in format already puts forward the difference in social status between him and the other characters, also shown by the content of his speech. Indeed, in his first monologue, the Porter mentions tailors, afarmer; he also mentions in his second monologue human vices: drinking, sex, and idleness, subjects of conversation far from those of Macbeth for example, and which make him a paragon of the common man. The syntax he employs also indicates his lower social status and education: he uses numerous abbreviations or colloquial terms, such as “old,” (v. 2) “i’th’name,” (v. 4) “enow,” (v.6) signs of hispoor language. His lack of education is also suggested when he forgets “th’other devil’s name,” (v.8) because he does not know the name of another devil. The Porter’s position as a lower-class man offers a striking contrast with Macbeth’s noble title and therefore creates this process of comic relief.
The gap between the Porter and Macbeth’s social strata also makes the Porter an ideal observer ofMacbeth’s character. His point of view as someone outside Macbeth’s entourage is detached, and offers additional insight into Macbeth’s personality. His description of drink’s prejudicial effects could be interpreted as an analogy with Macbeth’s ambitions. Drink and ambition indeed have the same soothing effect; both bring their victim to a thirst for more and more; and they also give animpression of dizziness, because of alcohol for drinking and because of power for ambition, bringing confusion, as in Macbeth’s mind as the play progresses. The Porter’s monologue then serves as a warning and a foreshadowing of Macbeth’s end: as alcohol “equivocates [a man] in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him,” (v.34-35) ambition will eventually bring Macbeth’s downfall and his tragic end.Moreover, the Porter’s reference to sex and how it “takes away the performance” (v.29) echoes the moment when Lady Macbeth influences her husband in Act I scene vii by challenging his masculinity, affirming that “[he] would/ Be so much more the man” (v. 50-51) if he did the deed, thus reinforcing the hidden message of his monologues. Finally, the Porter compares Inverness to Hell on verse 17, andtherefore its gate to the gate of Hell. This is illustrated when he asks “Who’s there, i’th’name of Belzebub?,” (v. 3-4) Belzebub being the devil. This parallel announces the macabre events which happened inside the castle that night and, instead of welcoming Macduff and Lennox, is a manner of warning them against the evil lurking inside. Inverness being Macbeth’s castle, this analogy could be...