Good Night, Bad Night: The Black Night in Macbeth

by Dexter Pakula
Good Night, Bad Night: The Black Night in Macbeth

“The night is alive, and similar to a human, it may be allied with. It has a peaceful side and a dark one. In Shakespeare’s tragedies, the night takes on the darker role, but in his comedies, such as The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it takes on the lighter, more peaceful one.”

The night is alive, and similar to a human, it may be allied with. It has a peaceful side and a dark one. In Shakespeare’s tragedies, the night takes on the darker role, but in his comedies, such as The Merchant of Venice and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it takes on the lighter, more peaceful one. When the night is dark, nature becomes more creepy, and the night becomes more evil. In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, under the influence of three supernatural sisters, find the need to fulfill their dirty desire for power. They do anything to do this, including murder, starting a war, and allying with the dark side of the night. They use the dark and evil side of the night to help them gain power by inflicting harm and confusion on the rest of the Scottish kingdom. There is contrast between how the night is presented in Shakespeare’s comedies versus his tragedies.

In Shakespeare’s comedies, the night is often illustrated as a peaceful and quiet time. It is when everything and everyone rests. For example, in The Merchant of Venice, Scene 5, Act 1, Lorenzo says, “How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank! / Here will we sit, and let the sounds of music / creep in our ears: soft stillness and the night / become the touches of sweet harmony” (5.1.52-55). Just reading this quote may calm the reader because the language is soft and soothing. It has anything but a negative connotation. Shakespeare also uses the night in a positive way in Act 1, Scene 1 of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Lysander says, “Tomorrow night when Phoebe doth behold / her silver visage in the watery glass, / decking with liquid pearl the bladed grass / (a time that lovers’ flights doth still conceal)… ” (1.1.209-212). To clarify, Lysander is saying, “Tomorrow night, when the moon shines on the water and creates beads of pearly light on the grass (the time when lovers are most concealed and can run away).” Lovers may choose the night out of all times because it is the most peaceful and quiet time, so they won’t get disturbed. The moon shines on the grass and the water in a beautiful, unusual way during the night, and it also is the time when everyone rests. In these quotes, the night takes on the role of good, peaceful, quiet, and beautiful.

Shakespeare, equally skilled at creating unsettling and violent moods, changes his definition of the night in his tragedies. In Macbeth, the night morphs into a dark, evil, strange, and creepy phenomenon. An example of this is in Act 2, Scene 4, where an Old Man is speaking. He is talking about how the night that Duncan was murdered in was terrible and strange. The old man says, “… Hours dreadful and things strange; but this sore night / hath trifled former knowings” (2.4.3-5). In modern English, this means this night has been so spooky and scary that what we used to think was terrible is hardly so. From this, it may be drawn that the Old Man is referring to the night to represent the murder, as if the night itself was the terrible, scary thing that made it so that the Scottish people had a new understanding of what is truly horrific. In Act 2, Scene 3, Lennox, as well, deciphers that the night is evil. Here, he is exclaiming how odd the night that Duncan was killed in was. Lennox says:

The night has been unruly: where we lay,

our chimneys were blown down; and, as they say,

lamentings heard i’ the air; strange screams of death,

and prophesying with accents terrible

of dire combustion and confused events

new hatch’d to the woeful time: the obscure bird

mischievously the livelong night: some say, the earth

was feverous and did shake. (2.3.28-36)

In other words, this night has been been chaotic. The wind blew down into people’s chimneys as they slept. Some people say that they have heard cries of grief in the air, strange screams of death, and voices predicting terrible things in the woeful future. Here, Lennox is describing how the night was unusual. Shakespeare is using it to represent the shock and horror as people find out about Duncan’s death. Lennox knows that the night is becoming more evil before he found out about Duncan’s death. As well as the Old Man, Lennox is describing how the night has been odd. It’s almost like Lennox knew that something happened before he found out about it. These lines demonstrate how the night is showing its evil side over its good side. They may also outline an idea for the reader relating to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth allying with its dark side.

As Macbeth moves on, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth learn to trust the night and seek refuge in its evil side more and more often. This has negative impacts on the people of the Scottish kingdom. This is demonstrated in Act 3, Scene 2, when Macbeth feels that he must kill Banquo if he wants to stay king. He is basing this on the knowledge he gained from the witches. Macbeth says to Lady Macbeth:

Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,

till thou applaud the deed. Come, seeling night,

scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day;

and with thy bloody and invisible hand

cancel and tear to pieces that great bond

which keeps me pale. (3.2.47-52)

This may be interpreted as, “it is better that I don’t tell you until after it is done, when you applaud me for what I did. (Stops speaking to Lady Macbeth) Come, night, allow my killers to be stealthy and cover me of this deed. Allow your invisible hands to end Banquo’s life, which brings me fear.” Therefore, Macbeth wants the night to come. He is using it to cover up his killing Banquo and to allow his murderers to be unseen while doing it. Macbeth is starting to use the night as an ally to cause confusion and be destructive. This is different than how he used to use it, in which he would rest himself and allow other people to rest during the peaceful, quiet time. Now Macbeth uses the night as a murder weapon. This affects the rest of the Scottish kingdom in that the people now cannot rest either. An example of this is in Act 2, Scene 3, the famous Porter scene. Porter talks about Macbeth’s castle and how it has transformed in a negative way. The reader knows of Duncan’s death in this scene, but Porter does not. Porter says, “Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of / hell-gate, he should have old turning the key” (2.3.1-2). Essentially, Porter is comparing Macbeth’s castle to hell and his job to the person in control of hell’s gates. After Macbeth and Lady Macbeth use the safety of the night to kill Duncan, the doorman of their castle (Porter) thinks that Macbeth’s castle is no longer what it used to be. When Macbeth and his wife rely on the night’s aid in murder, people sense that the night has become evil. This is also illustrated in the previous Old Man and Lennox quotes. They all believe the night to be chaotic and evil. They each said things relating to the night being horrible, disturbing, and hell-like. In addition, I feel that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth become more and more evil as they continue to use the dark side of night in their dirty business. They not only are inflicting harm on others intentionally for their own gain, but they are also harming the rest of the Scottish kingdom. They are affecting everyone else’s daily lives and sleep routines. They are creating fear among the Scottish people, which is one of the classic aspects of evil characters.

In conclusion, the night is often interpreted as a peaceful and quiet time in Shakespeare’s comedies, but in Macbeth, it consistently plays a darker, more evil role. In Macbeth, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth use the night for their gain in power, and it costs them their original empathetic personalities. They become full of hatred and darkness. This may remind a reader of classic devil-inspired action. A character teams up with the devil and then is under the influence of him. In Macbeth, the night represents the devil, and as the book progresses, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth find the need to use the night to pursue dark thoughts into actions. Perhaps when people use the night for things besides peaceful activities, like sleep and renewal, they may become dark and evil like they are under the influence of the devil.

 

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