In act 3 scene 4 of Macbeth, Macbeth says "what man I dare, I dare... / Unreal mockery, hence." What is the irony of Macbeth's words to the ghost?Shakespeare's Macbeth

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

After killing Duncan in order to ensure the prophecies of the witches, Macbeth finds himself blinded by his ambition and power. So he hires murderers to kill Banquo lest his sons prevent Macbeth from attaining his ambition. In the meantime, as he and Lady Macbeth discuss their plans, they agree to dissemble before their guests are soon to arrive; Lady Macbeth tells her husband,

Come on, Gentle my lord, sleek o'er your rugged looks;
Be bright and jovial among your guests tonight. 3.2.30-31)

Macbeth replies,

So shall I, love, and so, I pray be you:

Let your remembrance apply to banquo;

Present him eminence, both with eye and tongue:

Unsafe the while, that we must lave

Our honors in these flattering streams

And make our faces vizards to out hearts

Disguising what they are.  (3.2.32-38)

Ironically, however, it is Macbeth who has cautioned his wife, that becomes overpowered by guilt and fear at the banquet, having learned from the murderers that Fleance has escaped. In this anxiety, he sees Banquo's ghost at the banquet and disconcerted, loses his earlier confidence. While he accuses the ghost of Banquo of an "unreal mockery," it is his own paranoia and guilt that mocks Macbeth himself, thus creating yet another irony.