Identify uses of irony as a dramatic technique throughout Macbeth by William Shakespeare.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There is no doubt that Shakespeare uses literary devices more easily than other great writers. It is his use of the language that makes his work so timeless, for we already know that he "borrowed" his ideas, such as Romeo and Juliet, but made each play uniquely his. It is the way Shakespeare wrote his plays, the depth of his characters and their realistic shortcomings that make his dramatic pieces so outstanding. It doesn't hurt that the Bard was so gifted in creating so many well-turned and quoted phrases.

In Macbeth, Shakespeare uses irony as a dramatic technique. There are three kinds of irony:

  • verbal irony is when an author says one thing and means something else.
  • dramatic irony is when an audience perceives something that a character in the literature does not know.
  • irony of situation is a discrepancy between the expected result and actual results.

Once source of irony in the play is the arrival of Duncan at Macbeth's castle. They speak of how lovely the air is, and Banquo infers that the birds feel safe there—they are willing to nest in the eaves where their young will be protected. However, in Act One, scene three, Lady Macbeth makes her plans for Duncan very clear‚ he'll die before he sees the dawn:

O, never (65)

Shall sun that morrow see!

So when Banquo and Duncan discuss how lovely the castle is, and Banquo describes the trusting nature of the birds, dramatic irony is used. The characters do not know that Duncan's life is in danger, but the audience does.

Another irony is shown in how loving the Macbeths are with each other at the beginning (even though Lady Macbeth insults her husband), and how it changes.

In Macbeth's letter to his wife in Act One, scene five, he writes:

This have I thought good to deliver thee,

my dearest partner of greatness...(9-10)

When they meet, Macbeth calls her...

My dearest love (61)

However, when she dies in Act Five, the two have become so distant from each other that he answers the report of her suicide with:

She should have died hereafter;

There would have been a time for such a word.(V.v.19-20)

He casually notes that she was going to die one day or another. For a man who so loved his wife at the beginning, it is ironic ("situational irony") that he shows so little remorse at her passing, such a short time later.

I think that the most dramatic of all the ironies is that Lady Macbeth is very strong at the beginning, pushing her husband to kill Duncan. The depth of her wickedness is shown when she admits that she could murder her own infant:

I have given suck, and know

How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:

I would, while it was smiling in my face,

Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,

And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you

Have done to this. (I.vii.60-65)

Macbeth makes note of how harsh she is when he notes:

Bring forth men-children only,

For thy undaunted mettle should compose

Nothing but males. (81-83)

On the other hand, Macbeth (who is valiant in battle) has no stomach at the act of murder. When he mistakenly brings back the murder weapons from Duncan's room, he refuses to return them:

I'll go no more:

I am afraid to think what I have done;

Look on't again I dare not. (II.ii.64-66)

Ironically, by the end of the play, Macbeth doesn't flinch at all when ordering the death of Macduff's wife and children, but Lady Macbeth eventually goes insane because of all that they have done. This is an example of "irony of situation."

pamelaknows | Student

There are three main types of irony: verbal, situational, and dramatic.  Dramatic irony is the primary type of irony used in Macbeth.

The dramatic irony used in Macbeth is used to inform the audience and create mood.  An example of dramatic irony is seen right away on the first scene.  The three witches gather and discuss meeting with Macbeth.  This lets the audience know that Macbeth  will meet with the witches in the future, which also gives the audience a hint into Macbeth's character.

Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something that the character doe not know or is not aware of. It can make the audience feel suspense -as in Macbeth.

Situational irony is when the opposite of what is expected happens.

Verbal irony Verbal irony saying one thing but meaning another-usually the opposite.