What are some examples of dramatic irony used in Macbeth?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Two especially good examples of dramatic irony in Macbeth appear early in the play. They both have to do with Duncan's trust and admiration for Macbeth, who, it turns out, will be his murderer.

  • Early in the play, we learn about Macbeth's valor and loyalty to the King through the Sergeant's description of his battle against the traitorous rebel Macdonwald. The King clearly admires and trusts Macbeth, who he describes as "valiant" and "worthy." The irony is that Macbeth's loyalty earns him new titles and puts him in a position to murder Duncan and gain his crown. Of course, dramatic irony technically requires the audience to know what that the characters on the stage do not, which strictly speaking is not the case here. But most of Shakespeare's audiences would have known the story of Macbeth, and would have thus understood the irony here.
  • Along the same lines, Duncan arrives at Macbeth's castle for a banquet, and upon entering, both he and Banquo comment on how lovely and welcoming the palace is. Duncan describes it as a "pleasant seat" and Lady Macbeth as an "honor'd hostess." Of course, Duncan will meet his death in this "pleasant seat" at the hands of Macbeth, who is encouraged to carry out the deed by the "honor'd hostess." This is true dramatic irony--we learned in the previous scene that Lady Macbeth is already plotting against the King.