What is the irony in Macbeth's soliloquy in Act 3 Scene 1? "To be thus is nothing,But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature Reigns that which would be...

What is the irony in Macbeth's soliloquy in Act 3 Scene 1?

"To be thus is nothing,
But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo
Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature
Reigns that which would be feared..."

Expert Answers
emilyknight7 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Macbeth's soliloquy is full of contrasts, as he struggles with incredulity that becoming king has not brought him security or happiness and instead he has a constant fear of Banquo and his sons as successors. There are several small ironies that come into play here.

One is that the very prophesy that excited Macbeth and led him to murder, now terrifies him and has him fearing for his own life. The cognitive dissonance that allowed Macbeth to believe the witches when they said he would be king but not worry about their prophesy that Banquo's sons would rule is now catching up to him here.

Additionally, the thing that makes Banquo such a fearsome opponent is "his royalty of nature" (3.1.52), which makes him both daring and clever enough to pull of an attempt on Macbeth's life. Of course, the word choice also suggests that Banquo would be a worthy king, in which case perhaps Macbeth should stand aside and let him rule, if he is as wise and clever as Macbeth claims.

Finally, the word choice of this soliloquy has contrasts in it, particularly the pronouns: 

"They hailed him father to a line of kings.
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown
And put a barren scepter in my grip (3.1.63-5) [Emphasis mine]
Macbeth struggles with the seeming pointlessness of killing Duncan to become king when he has no sons and heirs to carry on his crown. In the line, "To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!" (3.1.73), he seems furious and astounded at the absurdity that he would go through all that trouble only for Banquo's sons to rule. Again, though, most audience members would point out that he should have considered this before killing Duncan. 


gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of Macbeth's soliloquy in Act Three, Scene 1, he laments about not being safe as King of Scotland and voices his concerns about Banquo. Macbeth admits to being afraid of Banquo and grieves over the fact that the Three Witches gave him a "fruitless crown" as they prophesied that Banquo's descendants would inherit the throne. Macbeth then says he regrets torturing his conscience to give the scepter to one of Banquo's sons. Macbeth then ends his soliloquy by lamenting the fact that he gave his soul over to the devil and vows to challenge fate by fighting to his death. Macbeth initially murdered King Duncan because he was ambitiously motivated to rule Scotland and live a secure life of luxury. By committing regicide, Macbeth also hoped to cement his legacy as the revered King of Scotland and pass down the crown to his descendants. Ironically, Macbeth's hopeful aspirations become his nightmares as he lives an insecure, dangerous life as King of Scotland. Instead of Macbeth's life improving after attaining the throne, his life becomes much worse, and he develops into a ruthless, bloodthirsty tyrant, who fears for his life.

munarriz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The irony of Macbeth's soliloquy in Act 3, Scene 1, is that he has achieved his goal of becoming king, and now that he has the crown, he receives no pleasure from it. Macbeth begins his soliloquy by saying, "To be thus is nothing; But to be safely thus." He's signaling here that rather than appreciate the crown, he is going to worry about the events that might possibly be able to strip him of it. This line is also ironic when one considers Duncan's murder. He was king and unsafe—and now that Macbeth is king, it is ironic he has not considered he himself will be vulnerable, particularly in light of the fact that he is the one who killed Duncan.

Macbeth killed Duncan in order to become king. He ascends to the throne almost immediately after Duncan's death. Instead of focusing on running the kingdom and gaining the loyalty of the thanes, he becomes paranoid that he will lose everything he just gained. It is ironic that his life's ambition, once achieved, gives him no pleasure.