Strong Feelings in Macbeth and the Old Nurse's Story

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By examining ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ and ‘Macbeth’, in detail, compare and contrast how Elizabeth Gaskell and Shakespeare explore strong feelings in these two texts.

‘Macbeth’ was most likely written before the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 during the Jacobean era and it is thought that Shakespeare wrote the play in order to compliment the current King, James I. Shakespeare adapted his source material from ‘Holinshed’s Chronicles’; and one way he did this was by giving the audience full access to Macbeth’s tortured mind, so they could witness Macbeth’s most powerful emotions. The play also reflects a widespread fascination with witchcraft and Shakespeare exploits this interest for dramatic effect. In 1597, James I published his own book ‘Dæmonologie’, which explores the topic of witchcraft in detail. Shakespeare uses the supernatural to create a sense of foreboding in the audience. Throughout Shakespeare’s life, witches and witchcraft were the objects of morbid and fevered fascination. Jacobeans would be drawn to ‘Macbeth’, because of the mystery that surrounds the witches. Witches were credited with diabolical powers and were thought to have been able to cause severe weather, predict the future and bring on night in the daytime.

On the other hand, ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ was written later in 1852 for Charles Dickens’ Christmas magazine after he personally encouraged Elizabeth Gaskell to write a short story to publish in it. Gaskell draws on the Gothic tradition to create a frightening setting, which allows the characters to express their innermost feelings throughout the tale. Both of these texts allow the audience to witness deep emotions, because of the dark and gothic nature which influences the protagonists.

‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ is narrated by Hester, one of the main characters. She is a reliable narrator, as she is honest and steady, and was brought up with respectable parents, even though the family wasn’t very wealthy. She uses direct address to the audience and is maternal in her approach. Her style suggests that she isn’t highly educated and by the way she describes how she was feeling at the time, implies that she is making up the story as she tells it, so is therefore expressing her true feelings throughout. However, ‘Macbeth’ is one of the most well known plays by Shakespeare; a famous playwright. ‘Macbeth’ is dramatically designed for a live audience, where as ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ is a short story aimed at a reader, by an author who is better known for her novels.

‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ is a tragedy, in which two young people had a terrible upbringing without their parents in a mysterious, old, isolated house. Earlier on, we are told that the house has ‘branches dragging against the walls’, which suggests that secrets are hidden within the house, which is in an enclosed area, where no-one would easily be able to see inside. Therefore, this emphasises the remoteness of its location. This description gives an effective setting for a ghost story, where strong emotions could be vividly shown. ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’ also tells the tale of one, excluded family, whose fate has been greatly influenced by the selfish actions of the protagonists, who consciences have been ignored and replaced by greed.

In contrast, ‘Macbeth’ opens with a scene that uses the supernatural, which immediately attracts both the Jacobean and modern audiences. The witches of this scene also create a sense of mystery and foreboding with an overriding sense of evil. Since the only name mentioned in this scene is ‘Macbeth’, it suggests that he is very strongly associated with evil. There is a natural beat to the lines preceding Macbeth’s name, but by Shakespeare adding an extra syllable to the end of the last line, it forces us to pause on Macbeth’s name, greatly stressing on his relevance to evil. ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair’ is a paradoxical chant that remains in the readers mind throughout, implying that something sinister...
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