This busy scene begins with a moment of light comedy, which serves to heighten the suspense. The porter of Macbeth's castle, drunk from the previous night's revels, complains that his job is worse than that of the porter of hell. In a private game with the audience, he engages in a piece of stand-up comedy in which he imagines himself as that beleaguered servant, opening and closing the gate on the demand. The first two examples he uses (that of a farmer and an equivocator) have specific religious and historical connotations. A few months before Macbeth was performed at court in front of the Protestant King James I, the infamous Gunpowder Plot (the aim of which was to murder the English king) took place. The conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, may have been encouraged by a Catholic convert called John Garnett, whose nickname was "farmer." He was known also as the "great equivocator." This may be the man the porter refers to when he says, Faith, here's an equivocator that could swear in both the scales, against either scale, who committed treason enough for God's sake, yet could not equivocate in heaven. (3.2.8-10
The porter scene in Macbeth was written in prose. It has quite a few purposes both dramatically and logistically. Most simple of all is the fact that it allows the actor playing Macbeth to wash the blood from his hands, after Duncan's murder, in time for the next scene.
Also, Shakespeare is creating comic relief. He pauses from the 'action' to make the audience laugh, especially with the Porter's 'lechery' speech: "Lechery, sir, it provokes, and unprovokes: it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance" These lines are about alcohol's effect on the male libido and, by using them to make the audience laugh, Shakespeare relieves the tension they are feeling after the murder. In addition to this comic relief afforded the audience by the character of the porter, his repeated use of the word equivocation serves to enhance the...
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