How Does Shakespeare Create an Atmosphere of Evil in Act 4, Sc. 1?

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Scene 1 of Act 4 is certainly one of the most visually impacting and intriguing scenes of the entire play. This strong effect is attained by the sequential presentation of mysterious images and a close reference to evil throughout the whole scene. On stage, the visual (the actions and apparitions) and audible (the speech and sound effects as the thunder) factors engulf the entire scene in an atmosphere of wickedness.

We must first consider the stage directions that indicate the location were the action is to take place. It is "A dark cave. In the middle, a boiling cauldron. Thunder…". The site is instantaneously evident to the audience as the curtains are opened, so even before any action takes place the public can sense the mood the scene is to portray. As the witches brew their charm to bring disgrace to Macbeth we come across numerous suggestions of evil and mystery.

Their chanting, "Double, double, toil and trouble: Fire burn and cauldron bubble" is rhythmic and has an almost an hypnotic quality to it, even so that it is still one of the most famous extracts of the whole of literature.

There is also a repetition of the word "thrice", referring to three. During Shakespearean times religion was a main pillar of society and daily life, paganism was feared and condemned without mercy. The number three was of high importance in Celtic pagan traditions and for strictly Christian audiences it was seen as evil. We shall see that religious aberrations are of crucial importance to create the atmosphere of evil, as they are its maximum manifestation.

The ingredients that the witches add to the cauldron are also important, as many of them are associated with themes of death and mutilation. We see that most of the ingredients are sectioned limbs or organs of different animals associated with evil themselves: "Fillet of a fenny snake", "Toe of frog" or "Lizard's leg". The witches also refer to human body parts making the...
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