In Act III scene 6 of Macbeth, what is Lennox saying in this speech and what does he actually mean?

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Well done for spotting the gap between appearance and reality in this speech, and the sarcasm of Lennox as he comments upon recent occurrences in the kingdom of Scotland! As Lennox is seen talking to a Lord, he discusses his suspicions of what has happened and the true nature of events. However, although he reports the known facts, if we look carefully and what he says and how he says it, we can see that he is being incredibly ironic, and he does not actually mean what he says at all. Note his comment on Macbeth and his actions in killing Duncan's two henchmen:

So that, I say,

He has borne all things well, and I do think,

that, had he Duncan's sons under his key

(As, and't please Heaven, he shall not), they should find

What 'twere to kill a father; so should Fleance.

Clearly, Lennox does not believe Macbeth has done "all things well," as he believes that if Macbeth had access to Duncan's sons and to Fleance that they would soon meet the fate of others that Macbeth has had close contact with. Throughout this entire speech, Lennox is discussing his suspcions of Macbeth, ironically underlining the difference between Macbeth's actions and his real motives.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Act III, Scene 6, as he walks with another lord, the nobleman Lennox tells him that his former observations have coincided with the lord's thoughts. Stating that the lord can draw his own conclusions, Lennox still mentions that strange things are occurring; however, he employs sarcasm to suggest a more portentous meaning to what he literally says.

In order to impress upon his listener the incongruities of circumstances, Lennox speaks facetiously as he alludes to several instances:

  • Macbeth felt pity for the murdered Duncan, but only after the king was dead.
  • The valiant Banquo went out for a walk too late at night, for "[M]en must not walk too late." It is said that his son Fleance murdered him because he was known to have fled the scene.
  • How "monstrous" it was, Lennox remarks, for Donalbain and Malcolm to have murdered their own father, King Duncan. Clearly, this murder so grieved Macbeth that he immediately killed the two men who had guarded Duncan's door. This was a noble deed, was it not?
  • Lennox's sarcasm grows darker as he asks the lord if Macbeth's act of killing the guards was not, indeed, wise, as well, because it "would have angered any heart alive" to have heard the men deny the act.
  • With biting sarcasm, Lennox concludes that in consideration of all that has happened, Macbeth has handled things rather well.

Having suggested with his sarcastic remarks about Macbeth that evil exists in the kingdom, Lennox feigns nonchalance as he asks where Macduff "bestows himself." The lord replies with an understanding of Lennox's true meaning. He informs Lennox that Duncan's son has gone to England in order to enlist the aid of King Edward that he call to arms the commander of the English forces, the Earl of Northumberland and his son Siward. With the help of the English, Macduff hopes to restore peace to Scotland. But, having learned of this plan, Macbeth is now preparing for war.

Lennox then adds his wish that "Some holy angel" fly to the English court that his beloved and suffering country of Scotland may be saved from the tyranny of Macbeth.

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