The Porter is a minor character in Macbeth, but that doesn’t mean he’s not important, and he definitely deserved an analysis of its own.
In an Edexcel GCSE English Literature exam last year, he unexpectedly cropped up as the main Macbeth question, so I’ve made this little resource to help anyone who’s revising that question or taking Macbeth exams so that you can be fully prepared to analyze his character! This is especially tailored towards those studying AQA, OCR, Eduqas/WJEC, Edexcel, CCEA, and CIE (Cambridge) exam boards, but it’s also useful for anyone studying Macbeth at any level.
Thanks for reading! If you find this resource useful, you can take a look at our full online Macbeth course here. Use the code “SHAKESPEARE” to receive a 50% discount!
This course includes:
- A full set of video lessons on each key element of the text: summary, themes, setting, characters, context, attitudes, analysis of key quotes, essay questions, essay examples
- Downloadable documents for each video lesson
- A range of example B-A* / L7-L9 grade essays, both at GCSE (ages 14-16) and A-Level (age 16+) with teacher comments and mark scheme feedback
- A bonus Macbeth workbook designed to guide you through each scene of the play!
For more help with Macbeth and Tragedy, read our article here.
THE SCENE (Act 2 Scene 3)
Knocking within. Enter a Porter.
Here’s a knocking indeed! If a
man were porter of hell-gate, he should have
old turning the key.
knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ the name of
Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer, that hanged
himself on the expectation of plenty: come in
time; have napkins enow about you; here
you’ll sweat for’t.
Here’s a link to Act 2 Scene 3, the full scene that includes the Porter.
The Porter (in Macbeth)
- The porter is just called ‘Porter’ in the characters list, so you can call him either ‘the porter’ (no capital letter) or ‘Porter’ (capital letter)
- He is a minor figure, but very unusual for the dark tone of the play; he is a comic figure in the middle of a tragedy
- There is a darkly comic tone set by the porter, as he pretends that he is the gatekeeper to the doors of Hell; this creates dramatic irony as he doesn’t know how much evil has entered the castle (but the audience do)
- he has the conventions of a stock character (traditional characters that were used in comedies that audiences could immediately recognize)
- As a stock character, he is lower class and drunk, but not unintelligent — he does have some perceptive comments about what’s going on. The combination of his drunkenness and his insight is what provides the comedy of the scene
- He remarks wittily, for example, that these cannot be the gates to hell after all as it is ‘too cold for hell’, i.e. suggesting that Macbeth is stingy and doesn’t have enough heating, as well as implying that it might even be nicer to work for the Devil himself because at least it would be warm!
- He ONLY appears at the beginning of 2.3 — at first by himself, and then speaking to Macduff
- Shakespeare often uses comic elements in his tragedies and vice versa. The comedy serves to sharpen the tragic effect of the later scenes because it provides a brief moment of comic relief after Duncan’s murder; before we’re plunged further into Macbeth’s violence and madness