Is this passage from Macbeth a good example of dramatic irony, and, if so, why? “O gentle lady, / 'Tis not for you to hear what I can speak. / The repetition in a woman's ear / Would murder as...
Is this passage from Macbeth a good example of dramatic irony, and, if so, why?
“O gentle lady, / 'Tis not for you to hear what I can speak. / The repetition in a woman's ear / Would murder as it fell”?
The words are spoken by Macduff to Lady Macbeth.
This is indeed a good example of dramatic irony, one that arises from the difference between what Macduff falsely believes about Lady Macbeth, and what we, the audience, know about her.
Dramatic irony arises when the reader or audience knows something that a character does not. The character is mistaken, or uninformed. We know better, a situation that can create a variety of effects -- ranging from the tragic to the comic.
But whether we find the results humorous or distressing, our emotional responses depend on our ability to judge how much the character's beliefs diverge from objective reality. Oedipus Rex is frequently cited as an excellent example of dramatic irony: The audience knows what Oedipus does not -- that the man he killed was his own father, and that the woman he married is his own mother.
In this case, the audience observes that Macduff is extremely misguided in his belief that Lady Macbeth is a delicate female who needs to be protected from talk of violence. In part, his words reflect a chivalrous fantasy about female psychology: Ladies are too innocent and gentle -- they can't cope with the reality of evil deeds. But it also reflects his mistaken beliefs about Lady Macbeth as an individual. He doesn't imagine that she could have anything to do with the murder.
We know that -- on the contrary -- she is the mastermind behind the murder. It was her idea to drug the king's chamberlains. She is the one who egged Macbeth on. She's the one who coolly framed the guards for the murder by smearing the dead king's blood on their daggers. Far from being too delicate to hear about the murder scene, she's tampered with it--literally bloodied her hands in it--and derided her husband for being afraid to look.
"The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures; 'tis the eye of childhood
That fears a painted devil."
What is ironic about these lines is that Macduff is addressing the woman who has consistently shown herself to be cold, cruel, sadistic, remorseless, actually bloodthirsty. He assumes, because she is a woman, that she might actually die if he were to describe the horrible scene he has just witnessed in the murdered king's chamber. In actuality, Duncan might never have been murdered if she hadn't goaded her husband into doing it and had made some of the arrangements, such as drugging the king's attendants. This is dramatic irony indeed. (Irony, as I understand it, is something that would be funny if it were not so painful or terrible.) Obviously, Macduff has no suspicion of Macbeth or Lady Macbeth at this point, although he will become very suspicious when he remembers Macbeth's strange behavior from the moment he encountered him upon entering the castle to wake the King. Macduff, like young Lennox, is the soul of loyalty and innocence and would find it hard to believe any of his peers could be so different. His naive innocence highlights Lady Macbeth's wickedness.