In Macbeth, what are some examples of paradox in Act 3?  

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perfectsilence eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Two additional examples of paradox occur when Macbeth is talking with one of Banquo's murderers in Act III, Scene 4. In this scene, Macbeth is hosting a dinner party for his most loyal nobles and lords. He has hired murderers to kill Banquo, and they have succeeded. In this scene, one of the murderers shows up at the dinner party in order to inform Macbeth that the murder has taken place, at which time Macbeth draws attention the the blood upon the face of the murderer. When the murderer says that the blood belongs to Banquo, Macbeth replies "'Tis better thee without than he within" (3.4.16). Upon first glance, it seems like it couldn't possibly be better for Banquo's blood to be on the murderer, rather than in Banquo's own body. It means that Banquo is dead, which isn't good for Banquo at all. However, the paradox can be resolved if we look at this from Macbeth's perspective. Macbeth was paranoid that Banquo was catching on to Macbeth's treason and, for the sake of Macbeth's peace and position, had to be killed before he became a threat. Because of this, Banquo's blood being on the murderer "'[t]is better" for Macbeth, not for Banquo.

Furthermore, once Macbeth finds out that Fleance, Banquo's son, escaped, Macbeth again grows concerned. He double checks to make sure Banquo himself was killed, saying "But Banquo's safe?" (3.4.27). At this point, the murderer replies "Ay, my good lord. Safe in a ditch he bides,/ With twenty trenched gashes on his head" (3.4.29). Once again, it doesn't make sense to say that Banquo is in any way "safe," especially as he is dead and mutilated in a ditch, unless we look at this from Macbeth's perspective. Just as with the first example, Banquo is not "safe" for himself, his family, or anyone else except for the Macbeths.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A paradox can be a situation or a statement that seems contradictory but is nevertheless true or real.  One example of a paradoxical statement occurs when Lady Macbeth, alone on stage, says to herself, "'Tis safer to be that which we destroy / Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy" (3.2.8-9).  How can it be "safer" to be "destroy[ed]"?  This is the contradiction that creates the paradox.  What she means is that it would be better to be the dead victim than to be the murderer and live in anxiety, unable to be happy.  She and Macbeth have achieved what they set out to when they murdered Duncan: they are now king and queen of Scotland.  However, they are not happy, and Lady Macbeth sounds as though she is beginning to regret their crime because she cannot be content feeling all this anxiety and guilt.  

Macbeth shares a similar sentiment when he says, "Better be with the dead, / Whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, / Than on the torture of the mind to lie / In restless ecstasy" (3.2.22-25).  How can it be better to be dead?  How can one feel "restless ecstasy"?  Herein lies the paradox.  Macbeth means that it would be better to be dead, like Duncan, because he is truly at peace; the Macbeths killed Duncan in order to find peace, what they believed would make them happy, and now they are made miserable by their tortured happiness: they aren't at peace or truly happy.