The satirical porter scene is said to be the comic relief in the grim tragedy of the play, Macbeth, by William Shakespeare. In the following essay the importance of the scene to the rest of the play will be discussed, and the actions and speech of the porter will be analyzed. Though not the most important scene of the play, the value of the porter scene cannot be overlooked. The sordid, tense and serious atmosphere of conspiracy and murder is slightly eased by the humorous speeches and actions of the porter in this scene.
The way this scene is written and the strategic placement of the scene is brilliant. This scene allows the reader to catch their breath between Macbeth’s murder of Duncan and the discovery of the body by Macduff; therefore it heightens and enriches the dramatic impact of both those scenes. This is the importance of the scene to the rest of the plot, and though it does not ‘advance’ the plot as such it gives the adjacent dramatic scenes greater dramatic effect.
The porter, who has the duty to guard the gate and welcome the visitors, is in drunken state and imagines he is the porter at the gate of hell, this is ironic because the castle of Macbeth is alike hell, due to Macbeth’s recent devilish actions. The porter, being in his drunken state while Macduff is knocking, imagines he is letting in to hell three men, a farmer, an equivocator and an English tailor. He says this about the farmer, “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”.
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He’s saying that a farmer, who accumulated corn expecting to make money, hanged himself because the prices of corn dropped. He then imagines to let in an equivocator, “Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scales, who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate into heaven. ” Here he is saying that an equivocator (deceiver) who told many lies and half-truths in his life could not talk his way into heaven.
The porter next, imagines the third knocker as the English tailor, “Faith, here’s and English tailor, come hither for stealing out of a French hose, come in tailor, here you may roast you goose. ” He is explaining that an English tailor, who has come here for stealing cloth, may heat his iron here in hell. The porter than comes to his senses, realizing that he is not the porter at the gate of hell, “I’ll devil porter it no further. ” and opens the door for Macduff to enter. By saying this speech of his he is able to entertain the audience and calm them down after the drama of the previous scene.
But the real humor found in the porter scene, is when the porter talks about lechery (sex).
“Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes; it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance. There- fore, 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 dis-heartens him; makes him stand to, and not stand to; in conclusion, equivocates him in a sleep, and, giving him the lie, leaves him. He is explaining to Macbeth the effects of drink on sex. He says that alcohol provokes the desire for sex, but it takes away the performance factor. In Shakespearean times, this speech would’ve had the crowds roaring with laughter, almost making them forget the drama of the last scene, so that they could be all the more shocked when the next dramatic scene comes. The purpose of the amusing and slightly vulgar porter scene is to provide a much-needed comic relief from a monotony of tragedy in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
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It is able to calm the audience down after a very tense scene in which they had witnessed or heard of (as the act of killing King Duncan would have been off stage) the death of Duncan by Macbeth, and though it is not considered to be a turning point to the plot, I regard the scene to be important and I doubt that the play Macbeth would’ve been as effective had this scene not been included.