|Porter talking to Lennox and Macduff|
Firstly, the scene is theatrically necessary as it gives time for the actor and the actress who play the role of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to wash their hands and change their clothes. Capell suggested that it was necessary “to give a rational space for the discharge of their action.”
Secondly, it provides comic relief to the audience. The audience has just witnessed the killing of Duncan and the horror surrounding it and this comic scene gives the audience a chance to catch their breaths and enlivens the gloomy atmosphere of horror. The Porter is, as White comments, “one of Shakespeare’s true humours grotesques, although not of the best sort of them.” He can be compared with the grave-digger in Hamlet and the Fool in King Lear.
But the Porter Scene entirely destroys this atmosphere of horror. At the very beginning the Porter imagines himself to be the “Porter of Hell Gate”. Kenneth Muir reminds us that “it is there to increase our feelings of horror. We are never allowed to forget through the scene that a murder has been committed, and it is about to be discovered. If we laugh, we never forget.”
According to Prof. Hales, the Porter is intended to be contrasted to his master and to come out as the better man, morally superior to Macbeth. He is no doubt vulgar, lo-bred, drunken and obscene. Yet he has committed no murder. His presence may bear an implicit moral import that a man of foul tongue is better than a man of foul deed.
What the Porter says may seem irrelevant. But close analysis reveals that they are very much associated with the main theme of the play. The Porter invites three sinners to enter the castle which he imagines as hell. Their sins strongly echoes the Macbeth’s crime. Like Macbeth, all of them took the short and easy way to gain pleasure or power. The Jesuit equivocator who is accused of equivocation is reminder of contemporary political theme of treason and equivocation derived of famous Gunpowder Plot. Like him, Macbeth also equivocates after the murder of Duncan: “All is but toys: renown, and grace is dead; / The wine of life is drawn, the mere less/Is left this vault to brag of.”
Lastly the knocking in the Porter Scene makes a strong impact on the audience. Thomas De Quincey has remarkably commented on it. With this is brought back the pulsating note of life. Thomas De Quincey has summed up this point wonderfully, “...the pulses of life are beginning to beat again; and the re-establishment of the goings on of the world in which we live, first makes us profoundly sensible of the awful parenthesis that has suspended them.”