What are contradictions and paradoxes in Act I of Macbeth?

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lusie0520 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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In its simplest form, a paradox is a statement that contradicts itself. The two you have are correct. In Scene 3, the witches are making predictions about Macbeth’s future. When they are finished, Banquo asks them to speak to him. They make three predictions, all of which are paradoxical. “Lesser than Macbeth, and greater; Not so happy, yet much happier, thou shalt get kings, though thou be none.” It confuses both men. In the end though, Macbeth is king, but he becomes king by violating his moral code and Banquo does not (thus Banquo is greater). At the end of the scene, when Macbeth is thinking about killing the king, he says in an aside, “This supernatural soliciting cannot be ill, cannot be good.” Paradoxically, if it is good, why is it making him think terrible thoughts? If it is bad, why has he already received the benefits of it? In Scene 5, in Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy, she says, “What thou wouldst highly, that wouldst thou holily, wouldst not play false, and yet wouldst wrongly win.” The paradox here is that she knows Macbeth wants the crown, but he wants it without upsetting his moral balance. As it is impossible to kill morally, Macbeth must choose winning or remaining moral. In the last scene, it says “Wouldst thou have that which thou esteemest the ornament of life and live a coward in thine own esteem?” Lady Macbeth presents the paradox of Macbeth wanting the crown but also wanting to remain good. She tells him that in the end he will consider himself a coward.

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