In Macbeth act III, scene 6: Why is Lennox cautious in his speech; what, if anything, is a criticism of Macbeth?
William Shakespeare's Macbeth
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In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Act 3.6, Lennox may be being politically careful in his speech. He says nothing that could cause him to end up like the murdered people he mentions--Duncan and Banquo--or the person he suggests is now in danger--Macduff--due to his absense from the "tyrant's" feast.
The key to understanding Lennox's true feelings in the speech is "tyrant." Lennox considers Macbeth a tyrant. It is hard to hear that and then still conclude that Lennox really believes Malcolm and Donaldbain killed their father, and, even more unlikely, that Fleance killed Banquo.
It is much more likely that Lennox is using sarcasm, if the speech is performed with a sarcastic tone of voice, or at least irony, if the tone of voice is not sarcastic.
Shakespeare often wrote ambiguously, leaving the words of a character to be interpreted by directors and actors. This is probably one of those instances. One thing is relatively certain, though: Lennox is questioning the theory that the deaths he mentions were the result of sons killing their fathers.
If you look at the whole speech that Lennox makes to that one lord, it is totally sarcastic. That is what he is saying that I see as criticism of Macbeth. There is no one thing he says that literally says anything bad about Macbeth, but all the good things he's saying are sarcastic.
He says it was lucky Macbeth killed the servants so they couldn't make people mad by denying their crime. He says that Macbeth was really so sad when Duncan died -- it's all sarcastic and meant to say that the opposite is true.
He can't come out and say this stuff because Macbeth is still king and could have him killed.
In Lennox's speech of Act III, Scene 6, there are clearly examples of verbal irony and, as readers know, irony is more effective at times in communicating an outrage or incongruity than is simple statement. In the opening lines of Lennox,
My former speeches have but hit your thoughts/Which can interpret farther. Only I say/Things have been strangely borne (III,vi,1-3)
he suggests that there is a difference between their perception and his. With irony, he suggests how great this contrast is. First of all,
The gracious Duncan/Was pitied of Macbeth: marry, he was dead. (III,vi,3-4)
That is, Duncan was so lamented by Macbeth, but he was dead already. And, Banquo was out too late; "Men must not walk too late" (III,vi,7). Here, with irony, Lennox implies that Banquo was at fault for his own death, but really suggests again that Macbeth is the villain. Then, the verbal irony becomes clearer:
How it did grieve Macbeth! Did he not straight,/In pious rage, the two delinquents tear,/That were the slaves of drink and thralls of sleep?/Was that not nobly done? Ay, and wisely too;/For 'twould have angered any heart alive/To hear the men deny 't....(III,vi,11-16)
With such biting irony, the listeners cannot help understanding the incongruity of two drunken men having killed Banquo. The only reason for their murder is the fact that they would have denied having done the act, an action that would point the finger at someone else; namely, Macbeth himself.
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