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Act 2 scene 3 is whereby King Duncan is discovered murdered in his chambers. Beginning with a sound of knocking from off stage, enters a drunken porter who comically grumbles about the noise as he walks through the hallway stumbling to go answer. He mocks the person on the other side of the door. Instead of opening the door, he decides to play a game with himself, as the knocking continues. The porter imagines himself a porter at hell’s gates joking about the type of sinners he might let in. He asks, “Who’s there, i’ th’ name of Beelzebub?” (Shakespeare, 2010). It might have been the farmer who murdered himself because grain was cheap or a con man that lied under oath but discovered. He could not lie to God, hence enters hell for the sin of perjury or the English tailor who cut back on material for people’s clothing only to realize tight pants were in fashion so his scheme was futile (Shakespeare, 2010).
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In all three scenarios the porter imagines speaking to the three ushering them in. Lennox and Macduff (Scotland noblemen), who have been commanded to call upon King Duncan to arrange for his departure, enter. Macduff complains about how slow the porter responds to his knock. In reply, the porter says he was up until 3 AM drinking, and humorously explains alcohol’s effects on a man; it turns one’s nose red, induces sleep, and makes one urinate. In addition, it turns on lust but inhibits the ability to have sex (Shakespeare, 2010). The rest of the scene continues with the news of King Duncan’s death suspected to be done by his chamberlains and the fleeing of the King’s sons Malcom and Donalbain from Scotland in fear of being killed next.
The porter joking with Macduff is a break from the tension gearing towards King Duncan’s murder by Macbeth in Act 2 scenes 1 and 2. It very strongly relates to the themes of ambition and fate. How he describes alcohol causing confusion and lust in a man depicts the moral confusion Macbeth is having towards killing King Duncan. The Three Witches told him he would be king in future (Shakespeare, 2010) and he was initially prepared to wait for his fate. Nevertheless, upon hearing King Duncan announcing that his son Malcom will be heir to his kingdom (Shakespeare, trans.2010, 1.4.38-39), his lust and ambition for power as the King of Scotland strengthened. The only way to hasten his succession to the crown was the King’s death. In addition, how the porter explains alcohol’s stimulation of lust strangely magnifies how Macbeth’s wife Lady Macbeth’s remarks “sexually” challenge Macbeth about his ability to go ahead with the murder.
The porter’s imagination of Macbeth’s castle door being like hell’s gate is sarcastic considering the bloody events that are taking place within. The comparison between the castle and hell are strengthened when the porter loudly cries“ Who’s there, i’ th’ name of Beelzebub?” Beelzebub in this case being the devil (Shakespeare, trans.2010, 2.3.3). Guests fate into the castle are also echoed through the porter’s warning using the above question, in that they are placing themselves in the devil’s hands when they enter the castle.
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- Shakespeare, W. (2010). Macbeth. Irvine: Saddleback Educational Pub.