In Act 5 of Macbeth, identify a paradox and a pun and explain each.

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Michael Otis | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

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In the fifth and final act of Macbeth, wherein the usurping king meets his bloody end, a paradox and a pun both propel the dramatic movement of the tragedy. The former occurs in Scene 3 when Macbeth, boasting of the futility of Malcom's and the English attack on his castle fortress, states that he will rule secure until "Birnam Wood remove to Dunsinane” (5.3.2).  This apparently absurd and contradictory statement - a paradox - is, in Scene 5, revealed to be true when a messenger informs the king that the trees of Birnam Wood have been seen moving toward Dunsinane - the result of Malcolm's strategy of having his soldiers cut and carry branches before them as camouflage. The latter occurs in the same scene when Macbeth, learning of the death of his tormented wife, utters the wintry words:

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.

In his pun on the different senses of the same word, "day", - that is "tomorrow" and "yesterdays", Macbeth resigns himself to his death and damnation. Thus, paradox and pun together impart power to the nihilistic cast of Act 5.

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