Strong Feelings in Macbeth and the Old Nurse’s Story Essay
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 ‘D?monologie’, 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 lies ahead and creates a sense of foreboding. It highlights that appearances are deceptive, which contrasts against with the characters in Gaskells’ ‘Old Nurse’s Story’, whose appearances complement their characteristics. Whilst Hester is exploring the mystifying house, she discovers a portrait of the young Miss. Grace (later Miss. Furnivall). She was a beauty with a ‘proud, set look, and such scorn looking out of her handsome eyes’ as well as eyebrows that were ‘just a little raised’ and a ‘curled’ lip. Miss.
Grace is wearing posh clothes in the portrait, which shows that she is upper class, but even this artificial beauty doesn’t mask her malevolence. This shows that appearances are deceptive, but a person’s true colours are always revealed, no matter how hard they try to hide them. The impression that we are given in the opening scene of ‘Macbeth’ is that the actions of only a few people will deal with the fate of the whole kingdom. This is hinted at when the witches speak of ‘a battle’ being ‘lost and won’, as the word ‘battle’ usually refers to a conflict on a large scale, which suggests that numerous people in the kingdom could be affected.
This ‘battle’ could tie in to the strong feelings of guilt, ambition and determination on many levels. The battle could be a spiritual one between the good (the Thanes) and the evil (the supernatural), or a mental battle in Macbeth’s conscience; all of which could cause the characters to explore their innermost thoughts. Both of these openings anticipate the release of strong emotions from the protagonists, which are caused by their egotistical actions affecting their consciences later on in the texts. When Hester is searching for Miss.
Rosamond in the middle of the night, Gaskell uses pathetic fallacy to create a sense of fear and suspense by describing the sky which ‘hung heavy and black over the white earth, as if the night had never fully gone away’. This adds to the miserable atmosphere, as when it snows, the mysterious house darkens and the old lord plays the organ more, which evokes the feeling of foreboding and confusion, as the audience still do not know who is really playing the organ, considering the old lord is supposed to have passed away a long time ago. The oxymoron of ‘black’ and ‘white’ emphasises the darkness, which contributes to a depressing ambience.
Gaskell has personified the air by using the word ‘hung’, which creates a sense of loneliness. She introduces the air as a character in an attempt to add another person to the room, to make the situation seem less solitary. The weather also creates a sense of impending doom, as the air is made to seem predatory and harsh by the words ‘biting and keen’. The threat of the bad weather also suggests dark events to come. The frost reflects the emotional coldness of Miss. Furnivall, who has also become lifeless and dull after the weather has become worse. Gaskell uses pathetic fallacy to bring out and reflects the characters emotions.
However, in Macbeth, Shakespeare uses pathetic fallacy to encourage the audience to anticipate later events. By using ‘thunder, lightning and in rain’, the Jacobean audience would assume that something is out of place in the chain of being. The Jacobeans thought that the universe in which they lived in was ordered by God into degrees. If everything was in its place and was in balance, then harmony would be maintained in the heavens, but if something was out of kilter then this would disrupt the natural order of things; so by there being the threat of bad weather, a Jacobean would assume that something was wrong.
Shakespeare later uses ‘fog’ in this scene, suggesting that things aren’t going to be resolved until the end of the play, therefore during the audience in. Fog causes haziness and confusion, which reflects the state of Macbeth’s conscience and emotions; just after he is persuaded by Lady Macbeth to murder King Duncan. Throughout the tragedy, Macbeth is manipulated by his wife into doing things that are against his moral code. This causes him to feel pressured into doing what is wrong, and then later feeling guilty about his actions.
Both authors use pathetic fallacy in similar ways to have an effect on the audience and to express the fear and terror of what is yet to come. This creates suspense and curiosity in the audience, with an underlying sense of intrigue. Gaskell uses the supernatural at the ending of the story to convey the innermost feelings of the characters. When Miss Rosamond is looking out of the window she sees the phantom lady and child outside in the snow. ‘They are drawing me to them’ shows that Miss. Rosamond feels almost obliged to join the ghosts; as if they are controlling her reactions and forcing her to go with them.
Gaskell describes the actions of the ghost lord to show his anger by the ‘east door giving way with a thundering crash’ and ‘a violent passion’. This expresses the lords rage towards his daughter, because of the force the door was opened with. The words ‘giving way’ sound like the door was reluctant to open and the words ‘violent passion’ show that the Old Lord is exploding with emotions he is struggling to control. The fear of the ghost child is shown by her ‘clinging to her’ mothers dress. This shows her terror and need for someone to keep her safe.
Her actions express her love and trust for her mother as well as her protectiveness. In Act One Scene Three, Macbeth comments ‘so fair and foul a day I have not seen’, which is similar to the lines the witches chanted in Act One Scene One. This highlights that Macbeth is easily tempted, as he could already be possessed by the witches or be in a subconscious relationship with them. This could expose the moral confusion in Macbeth and a possible intimidation by the powerful women. Macbeths’ emotions are revealed when the witches hail him as ‘Thane of Cawdor… Thane of Glamis…
King of Scotland’. Macbeth questions Banquo saying ‘Why do you dress me in borrowed robes? ’ which shows that he is perplexed and taken-aback by this news from the three witches. Shakespeare uses the ‘borrowed robes’ metaphor to show Macbeths bewilderment, which also links back to disrupting the order of the chain of being. Banquo’s distrust of the witches is obvious, as Shakespeare uses the rhetorical question of ‘what, can the devils speak true? ’ By Shakespeare calling the witches ‘devils’ shows that Banquo loathes them and sees them as the worst creatures possible.
Banquo also questions the witches’ prophecy, so is a lot more morally cautious compared the Macbeth. In ‘The Old Nurse’s Story’, Gaskell explains the strength of the relationship between Hester and Miss. Rosamond by the way Hester refers to Miss. Rosamond as a ‘pretty young mistress who she would ‘have gone with the little child to the end of the world’, which shows she would do anything for her. Hester almost acts as a surrogate mother to Miss. Rosamond and from the way she narrates the story, Hester shows absolute devotion and utter loyalty to Miss. Rosamond. Sympathy is felt towards Hester and Miss.
Rosamond, as Miss. Furnivall and Miss. Stark both ignore ‘Miss. Rosamond’s outstretched hand’ whebn they first enter the house. At first, this shows the emotional coldness of the two older ladies, as they haven’t greeted or even acknowledged the two new arrivals. Suspense and fear is built up in both the reader and Hester, when Dorothy warns that ‘there are some ugly places about the house, where she should like ill for the child to go’. This is implying that there could be some sort of evil presence in the house, which could potentially physically or emotionally harm a child.
The use of Dorothy as a second narrator creates further emotional tension by… CEEBS FOR NOW BUT CHANGE IN LESSON… A sense of dread is created when Miss. Rosamond goes missing. Gaskell mentions the Fells and the forbidden east wing, which all combines to give a built up sense of fear. Shadows are also mentioned to enhance the scene since they ‘darken the snow’, which leads to a more spooky atmosphere. Miss. Furnivall reveals her guilty conscience when she cries ‘Oh! Heaven forgive! Have mercy’, when the phantom lord, daughter and child appear. This could show that Miss.
Furnivall could have been involved or influenced this to happen some time ago. By her ‘throwing her arms up’, she is expressing her want and need for forgiveness from God as well as her own conscience. However, Hester’s dominant emotions are presented when she is trying to protect Miss. Rosamond from the clutches of the phantom child. The Nurse’s desperation to resist Miss. Rosamond going with the child is shown by her holding Miss. Rosamond so tight that she ‘feared she should do her a hurt’, which shows her devotion and determination to keep Miss.
Rosamond safe in her loving arms. Macbeth’s strongest emotions are also shown in the play as the audience witness the protagonists fall from greatness, which is a typical element in a tragedy. In the first scene during the witches meeting, they chant ‘when the hurly-burly’s done’. This is a casual phrase, showing that the battle that may occur will not be an intense and horrific battle, but a possible battle of the conscience, instead of a physical one. It implies that the battle will affect only a small number of people as opposed to a huge army. Hurly burly’ is an informal word, showing that the witches are not really bothered by the outcome of the potential battle. This supports the Jacobean idea of witches being evil creatures. Macbeth’s anxiety is revealed in the second meeting with the witches, when he orders them to ‘tell’ him ‘more’. This command shows Macbeth’s desire for the prophecy to be true. This shows Macbeth’s ambition to be King, as otherwise he would choose to ignore what the witches were saying. EXPLAIN FURTHER. However, most of the strongest emotions in ‘Macbeth’ are revealed through asides and soliloquies.
For example, Shakespeare uses an aside in Act One Scene Three to express Macbeth’s confusion, when the witches reveal to Macbeth that he will be King of Scotland. He says ‘the greatest’, which suggests that he is already considering the possibilities of becoming King. This highlights his ambition. The aside that Macbeth uses after being told the prophecy reveals his troubled mind. ‘Cannot be ill, cannot be good’ is a paradox which shows the strong feeling of moral confusion. This relates to the pathetic fallacy of fog earlier on in the first scene.
He uses syntactic parallelism to show the struggle in Macbeth’s conscience. Macbeth uses a hypothetical situation to show he is undecided on whether to believe the witches statement. The words ‘if ill… if good’ shows that Macbeth is considering the consequences of each possible situation. This could suggest that Macbeth is tempted to commit murder and this once again is driven by ambition. Also in this aside, Shakespeare uses rhetorical questions to show that Macbeth is puzzled and doesn’t have the moral clarity that Banquo has.