Important Macbeth Question Help
Malcom says of the old Thane of Cawdor that "nothing in his life became him like the leaving of it..." How is this also an ironic reference to Macbeth?
A little digression from your main question regarding this quote - don't overlook the insult in it. The quote essentially says that the Thane of Cawdor's greatest achievement was dying. That doesn't say much for the man's life. This has always been one of my favorite quotes from the play and one I find very funny.
This reference is laced with multiple levels of irony. Both the Thane of Cawdor and Macbeth were soldiers first and foremost. The Thane was admired because of his bravery in accepting his execution for treason. Macbeth chose to fight to the death rather than surrender after his own treason.
The most significant aspect of the irony in the reference, however, is that Macbeth actually became Thane of Cawdor, himself, following the Thane's execution. The implication early in the play is that the Thane was executed on charges that might have been flimsy, in order to make room for Macbeth to take the title. Once in the position himself, Macbeth then allows his and his wife's ambition to consume him and commits treason himself.
It is ironic. The Thane of Cawdor, as he had been executed for treason, had faced his death bravely. Macbeth is rewarded with his title in recognition of his valor in fighting for King Duncan. Macbeth then commits treason himself, murdering Duncan for the throne. When he reaches the end of his reign as his enemies close in about him, Macbeth chooses to fight against insurmountable odds rather than surrender, knowing that death is a certainty for him. This last act of honor is supposed to remind us that Macbeth was once a brave and valiant soldier, a hero before his fall.