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Instances and purposes of irony throughout the play Macbeth

Summary:

In Macbeth, irony serves to highlight the tragic twists and moral lessons. Dramatic irony occurs when Duncan praises Macbeth's castle, unaware of his impending murder. Situational irony is evident when Macbeth's quest for power leads to his downfall. Verbal irony is seen in Lady Macbeth's reassurances to Macbeth, masking her own guilt and descent into madness.

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What are the instances of irony in Act 1, Scene 5 of Macbeth?

I would argue that there is both situational irony and dramatic irony in Shakespeare's Macbeth in act 1, scene 5. At this point in the play, the audience has learned of the prophecy given to Macbeth by the witches. We learn that he is Thane of Glamis, and the witches prophesy that he will be the Thane of Cawdor. He is confused by this since someone already holds that title. When he learns that the Thane of Cawdor is to be executed and that King Duncan is giving him the title, he realizes "the greatest is behind," meaning two parts of the prophecy have already come true, leaving only the final proclamation that Macbeth will be king. Macbeth is not in the direct line to the throne, so it's still a mystery how Macbeth will become king.

Herein lies the situational irony. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth hatch a plot to kill King Duncan in order to make the prophecy come true. The title of Thane of Cawdor came to Macbeth through his honor and valor, not by his human efforts to make it happen. The audience would expect a similar outcome for the rest of the prophecy, but that's not what happens. This is a dramatic turn from the character Macbeth has displayed until this scene. Situational irony is a literary device in which there is a disparity between what happens and what is expected to happen. Here is the quote from the scene where Lady Macbeth asks spirits for help in carrying out the evil plan of murdering King Duncan:

The raven himself is hoarse

That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan

Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it!
There is also dramatic irony in this scene, as readers get clues to the plot to kill Duncan, but the other characters in the play are completely unaware of the scheme. Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows something that characters in the book or play do not know.
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What are the instances of irony in Act 1, Scene 5 of Macbeth?

In act 1, scene 5 of Macbeth there is an example of what's called dramatic irony. This is where the audience knows something that one of the characters doesn't. Lady Macbeth has already resolved to have Duncan murdered; her husband must be king. But she doesn't want to give anything away; Duncan is going to be lulled into a false sense of security. Duncan will get the full red carpet treatment at Inverness, a reception fit for a king. But he'll never get out alive. Of that, Lady Macbeth is absolutely certain:

O, never Shall sun that morrow see!

Poor Duncan will never see the light of day. Macbeth knows it, Lady Macbeth knows it, and we know it too. But Duncan doesn't, hence the dramatic irony. He's walking straight into a gigantic trap, and he's blissfully unaware of it.

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Describe the irony in Act 1, Scene 6 of Macbeth.

There are three types of irony in literature: dramatic, situational, and verbal.

Dramatic irony occurs when the readers know something that the characters in a book or play do not. Romeo and Juliet is a classic example—readers know that Juliet is not really dead, but Romeo doesn't, resulting in the tragic ending. Situational irony occurs when what is expected to happen goes unexpectedly wrong. "The Gift of the Magi" is a good example of this—the wife sells her hair to get her husband a watch, and he sells his watch to get his wife combs for her hair. Verbal irony occurs when what is said is the opposite of what is meant. Shakespeare's tragic play Macbeth contains dramatic and verbal irony in act 1, scene 6.

Prior to this scene, the witches prophesied that Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, will become Thane of Cawdor and King. He is already Thane of Glamis, but the prophecy that he will become Thane of Cawdor comes true in act 1, scene 2 when King Duncan announces to Ross that the Thane of Cawdor, a traitor, will be stripped of his title—and the title will be given to Macbeth. Macbeth tells his wife of the prophecy, and she is the one who hatches the plan to kill Duncan. This occurs in act 1, scene 5. Here is a quote from Lady Macbeth's soliloquy in scene 5 when she asks the spirits for the bravery needed to conduct her plan:

Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood.
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murd'ring ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief. Come, thick night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
that my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark
to cry “Hold, hold!”

The dramatic irony in act 1, scene 6 is that Duncan arrives at Macbeth's castle and has no idea that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have a plot to murder him there. The audience knows this, due to the previous scene, but Duncan is completely unaware. The verbal irony in this scene is the warmth of the welcome and words of Lady Macbeth toward Duncan, whom she is conspiring to murder. It may not be her hands that commit the deed, but it is her plot and will that cause it to be carried out. And yet, she greets the king like a revered and beloved person. Here is an example of verbal irony from the scene when Lady Macbeth addresses Duncan:

All our service, in every point twice done and then done double,

were poor and single business to contend
against those honors deep and broad wherewith
Your majesty loads our house. For those of old,
And the late dignities heaped up to them,
We rest your hermits.
Her language would have been expected in this era when it was treasonous to even imagine the death of a king. But the irony is that she's saying everything they are doing for him, even if it was doubled and tripled, is nothing compared to the honors he has given them. Everything they're doing for him—like murdering him in their home. She is like a spider playing with its prey in this scene.
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Describe the irony in Act 1, Scene 6 of Macbeth.

In Act One, Scene Six, King Duncan arrives at the Macbeths' castle, Inverness. His initial impression is that it is a charming, inviting place. When he greets Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, he is received warmly and expects nothing but a pleasant stay among loyal subjects.

The dramatic irony is that the audience knows something King Duncan does not: the Macbeths are planning his murder that night. He will spend his last night alive in that castle he claims is so charming. Lady Macbeth's murderous intents are hidden behind how well she plays the amiable hostess.

The irony comes in because the audience is in on a key fact which is not known to (some or all) of the characters in the drama.

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Describe the irony in Act 1, Scene 6 of Macbeth.

In this scene, Duncan arrives at the Macbeths' castle, preparing to spend the night and honor one of his best and most loyal friends, relatives, and noblemen. However, the Macbeths are planning to murder the king that night while he sleeps. When Duncan arrives, he says,

This castle hath a pleasant seat. The air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses. (1.6.1–3)

Though the audience knows what will happen, Duncan is blissfully unaware of his fate—creating dramatic irony—as he describes how lovely the home and its environs are. He would likely think them less charming if he knew that he is going to die here tonight. Duncan also mistakenly thinks of Lady Macbeth as their "Fair and noble hostess" (1.6.30). She is not going to be a very good hostess at all, in fact, because she is plotting to murder her guest. Lady Macbeth lies to him, assuring him of his comfort and pleasure, creating further irony.

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Describe the irony in Act 1, Scene 6 of Macbeth.

Dramatic irony is when the audience knows more about the situation and circumstances than the leading characters in the play. Shakespeare employs dramatic irony in Act One, Scene 6, when King Duncan visits Inverness, Macbeth's castle. When King Duncan arrives at Inverness, he immediately expresses his positive perception of Macbeth's castle. He comments that Inverness is an inviting, pleasant place that appeals to his "gentle senses." King Duncan also expresses his appreciation to Lady Macbeth and her husband for inviting him to their castle. Lady Macbeth humbly accepts King Duncan's presence and acts as a pleasant hostess. She flatters the king and tells him that she is honored to have him visit. King Duncan even refers to Lady Macbeth as a "Fair and noble hostess." This scene is an example of dramatic irony because the audience is aware that Lady Macbeth is plotting King Duncan's murder. The king is completely unaware that he has entered a dangerous environment, where Macbeth and his wife plan on murdering him.

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Describe the irony in Act 1, Scene 6 of Macbeth.

In Act 1 Scene 6 of Macbeth, the great irony is that King Duncan has arrived at Inverness to attend the dinner party and Lady Macbeth greets him warmly. She and Macbeth, however, have already planned to murder the king that same night. Of course, Lady Macbeth makes the king feel welcome and safe--she puts on a false face so that he and others do not suspect that she and her husband are up to any foul play. Lady Macbeth tells Duncan that she is honored to have him in her home, and he says that he trusts his safety to them. So, dramatic irony is at work in this scene--the audience and some characters know what has been planned while others remain unknowing of events to come.

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What are examples of verbal irony in act 3, scene 6 of Macbeth and its purpose?

In this scene, Lennox is discussing the fate of Scotland under Macbeth. The scene serves several purposes: it informs the audience that Macduff has gone to England to seek King Edward's help against Macbeth, and it serves to comment on the outrageous events of the banquet scene. Lennox's irony here matches the audience's incredulity at Macbeth's behavior, providing a much needed comic beat.

Here are some examples.

"The gracious Duncan / Was pitied of Macbeth. Marry, he was dead." Lennox seems to be saying how nice it was for Macbeth to pity Duncan, but of course Duncan is dead. Lennox implies that there must have been something other than concern for Duncan that led Macbeth to pity him.

"And the right-valiant Banquo walked too late, / Whom, you may say, if ’t please you, Fleance killed, / For Fleance fled. Men must not walk too late." Lennox is making a joke: obviously "walking late" shouldn't be fatal for a man like Banquo. In the same way, Lennox's mention of Fleance is an ironic way of suggesting that his flight is hardly proof of his guilt.

"Who cannot want the thought how monstrous / It was for Malcolm and for Donalbain / To kill their gracious father?" Lennox does not believe that Malcom and Donalbain killed Duncan.

"Damnèd fact! / How it did grieve Macbeth!" Lennox's irony becomes outright mockery here. Macbeth's sorrow and outrage over the death of Duncan is clearly fake.

"Did he not straight / In pious rage the two delinquents tear / That were the slaves of drink and thralls of sleep? / Was not that nobly done?" Lennox of course means the opposite: Macbeth is not "noble" at all.

All in all, the irony of this passage makes it clear that Macbeth's schemes for power are fairly transparent. For all his paranoia about being found out, he has already has been "found out," because his actions telegraph his guilt. This helps underscore the kind of play Macbeth is; it's not about whether or not he will be caught, but rather about the sources of his ambition and the lengths which he will go to in order to achieve it.

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What are examples of verbal irony in act 3, scene 6 of Macbeth and its purpose?

The most obvious sort of irony in this scene is sarcasm, used by Lennox to emphasize his distaste for Macbeth.  This is the first scene in which Lennox appears after the ill-fated banquet scene in which Lennox observed Macbeth's behaviour upon seeing Banquo's ghost.  Lennox and the others did not see the ghost, but he got a pretty good idea of Macbeth's role in both Banquo's murder and the murder of Duncan from this event.

Here are some of the ironic and sarcastic comments that he makes:

...The gracious Duncan

Was pitied of Macbeth.  Marry he was dead.

And the right-valiant Banquo walk'd too late;

Whom you may say, if 't please you, Fleance killed,

For Fleance fled.  Men must not walk too late.

Who cannot want the thought how monstrous

It was for Malcolm and Donalbain

To kill their gracious father?  Damned fact!

How it did grieve Macbeth!

He goes on in ironic sarcasm to explain how "nobly" Macbeth has behaved and that he has "borne all things well."  Shakespeare is using this ironic sarcasm to highlight Lennox's anger and disgust at the two-faced murderer, Macbeth.

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What irony is revealed in the play Macbeth?

Situational irony takes place when what happens is the exact opposite of what we'd expected to happen. A classic example of situational irony in Macbeth occurs in relation to the brutal murder of King Duncan.

Lady Macbeth is the prime mover behind the assassination, an act of ruthless, ignoble treachery. Her husband, by contrast, is very much the junior partner in the enterprise, even though he's the one who actually wields the knife that kills Duncan.

Not only that, but he's a good deal less enthusiastic about the murder than Lady Macbeth. Indeed, he's so uneasy about the whole thing that his wife has to cajole him, pressurize him, and use emotional blackmail to get him to carry out the dirty deed.

Yet once the deed has been done, and Macbeth has become king of Scotland, we see a complete role reversal in the respective attitudes towards murder displayed by Macbeth and his wife. Whereas Macbeth once had cold feet about the act of killing, he now settles into the role of a ruthless, cold-blooded tyrant ready and willing to wipe out anyone he perceives as a threat.

By contrast, Lady Macbeth, so coldhearted and ruthless when it came to killing Duncan, has now developed guilt complexes over her actions. She wanders the halls of Inverness Castle in a fit of madness, trying in vain to remove the blood that, in her feverish imagination, taints her hands.

Earlier on in the play, when Lady Macbeth was constantly urging her husband to murder Duncan, this is not something we could've imagined happening in a million years.

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What irony is revealed in the play Macbeth?

One significant irony revealed in the play Macbeth is that one can never really be sure who one’s friends are, who is loyal, and who is treacherous. We would expect that years of friendship, obvious loyalty demonstrated on the battlefield, or other significant events would prove that one can count on another person. However, multiple relationships in the play show that this is not the reality.

First, and perhaps most obvious of all, poor King Duncan trusted and loved the Thane of Cawdor, but the thane betrayed his king and country, and he became a traitor. As a result, Macbeth—who seems incredibly loyal to Duncan, as he has been prepared to lay down his life for his king multiple times—is awarded the title to honor him for his bravery and faithfulness. Duncan trusts and loves Macbeth; again, Duncan is deceived. He had grieved the fact that “There is no art / To find the mind’s construction in the face” of any person, and yet he trusted—and was tricked—again (1.4.13–14).

Second, Malcolm feels that he must test Macduff’s loyalty and honesty in act 4, when the Thane of Fife goes to England to fetch the real heir to the Scots throne. He knows that Macbeth has tried to trick Malcolm into coming back to Scotland so that Macbeth can kill him, “and modest wisdom plucks [Malcolm] / From overcredulous haste” (4.3.138–139). Despite the loyalty Macduff really does feel to Malcolm’s father and to Scotland itself, Malcolm knows that he must not trust him and that he must suspect everyone in order to protect himself and his rights to the crown.

We see even more examples of this irony and how one can never really be sure who one can trust in the relationship between Macbeth and Banquo and between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

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What irony is revealed in the play Macbeth?

"Macbeth" gives rise to several moments of irony.  The first and most obvious instance occurs in Act 1, Scene 4, when King Duncan, believing Macbeth to be loyal, makes him Thane of Cawdor (the position of a man who has just attempted to overthrow King Duncan) and, in trying to satisfy Macbeth's ambition, actually ends up igniting the ambition and directing it to ends which inevitably lead to King Ducan's brutal murder.  Irony also plays heavily into Macbeth's actions; for instance, before Macbeth murders Duncan, he contemplates the disorientation of his situation: ". . . I am his kinsman and his subject,/Strong both against the deed [of murder]; then, as his host,/Who should against his murderer shut the door," (1.7.13-15).  The irony of Macbeth's actions continue when he murders not only Duncan, but also Duncan's attendants whom he has framed for the murder which he committed; in this case, the man who should be executed becomes the executioner.  There are many other structural elements which might be mentioned.  (It is only after he becomes king that Macbeth's allies and subordinates begin to disobey him.)  All of these are instances which demonstrate not only that Macbeth is a highly ironic tragedy, but also that the genre of tragedy itself is capable of sustaining a high degree of irony.

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What irony is revealed in the play Macbeth?

There are several instances of irony in the play, some situational and some dramatic.

A good example of situational irony is Macbeth's killing Duncan to gain the throne, thinking only of the power and wealth he will enjoy as the new King of Scotland. However, after murdering Duncan and being crowned, Macbeth cannot enjoy any part of his new position. He continues to kill in order to maintain power until he becomes a despised tyrant who is destroyed by his own people.

Another good example of situational irony concerns Lady Macbeth. She takes part in Duncan's murder with no hesitation or guilt. She berates Macbeth for being weak when his conscience bothers him about Duncan's murder. She is cold and calculating. However, at the end of the play it is Lady Macbeth who is overwhelmed with guilt and eventually kills herself.

Dramatic irony functions a bit differently. It is created in drama when the audience knows and understands more than the characters do. An excellent example of dramatic irony is found when King Duncan comes to Macbeth's castle to stay for the night. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth treat Duncan with respect and affection, doing all that is within their power to make him comfortable under their roof. Duncan believes they are his dear friends and loyal subjects. He does not realize that he will not live through the night, but the audience knows that Macbeth and his wife will murder him in his sleep within a few hours. This dramatic irony makes the dialog in the scene especially meaningful, sometimes disturbing and sometimes poignant because Duncan is so trusting.

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What irony is revealed in the play Macbeth?

The supreme irony of Shakespeare's Macbeth is that even after fulfilling his goal to be king, Macbeth derives no satisfaction or happiness whatsoever from actually being king.

There's no sense of celebration or accomplishment when Macbeth becomes king. There's not a single moment of peace or joy in Macbeth's life from the night he murders Duncan until his death at the hands of Macduff, a man "not of woman born," which is another irony in itself.

Within minutes of his coronation, Macbeth is fretting about the prophecy that the witches made to Banquo: "Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none" (1.3.70).

MACBETH. To be thus is nothing,
But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo
Stick deep ... There is none but he
Whose being I do fear... He chid the sisters,
When first they put the name of King upon me,
And bade them speak to him; then prophet-like
They hail'd him father to a line of kings:
Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown...
For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind,
For them the gracious Duncan have I murdered...
To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings! (3.1.52-74)

Macbeth is resentful of the fact that by killing Duncan, he placed himself in a position to bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy made to Banquo. The irony of this is that if Macbeth hadn't killed Duncan, he wouldn't be worrying about Banquo's children becoming kings at the expense of his own life. Macbeth brought all of this on himself.

Just one scene later, Lady Macbeth remarks on the joylessness of their situation.

LADY MACBETH. Nought's had, all's spent,
Where our desire is got without content.
’Tis safer to be that which we destroy
Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy. (3.2.6-9)

Lady Macbeth is asking rhetorically what good is everything that she and Macbeth have done to win the throne if they can't enjoy it now that they have it.

Macbeth becomes increasingly desperate to hold on to his crown. He orders that Banquo and Fleance be murdered to defy the prophecy that Banquo's descendants will be kings (3.1). He orders the murder of Macduff's wife and children in retaliation for Macduff seeking the help of troops from the king of England (4.1.). Macbeth hopes that destroying Macduff's family will deter Macduff from raising an arming against him, but it ironically serves to intensify Macduff's hatred for Macbeth and increases his determination to destroy him.

By the end of the play, utter resignation and despair have overtaken Macbeth. Shortly after he's told that Lady Macbeth is dead and that Birnam Wood is marching on Dunsinane Castle, Macbeth forces himself back into the fight, but his heart isn't in it.

MACBETH. I ’gin to be aweary of the sun
And wish the estate o’ the world were now undone. (5.5.54-55).

Macbeth wishes that the nightmare that his life has turned out to be was over.

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What irony is revealed in the play Macbeth?

Dramatic irony exists when the audience or reader knows something is going to happen and the characters involved do not. In regards to William Shakespeare's Macbeth, many instances of dramatic irony exist.

Duncan's arrival at Inverness (Macbeth's castle): "This castle has a pleasant seat" (I,vi, 1).

When Duncan arrives at Macbeth's castle, he has no clue that Macbeth has planned to murder him. Duncan is openly welcomed by both Macbeth and his wife, compounding the irony.

Macbeth visits the witches, again: "And damned all those that trust them" (IV, i, 144).

When Macbeth damns the witches, the audience knows that he is damning himself (he does not recognize this). This also foreshadows his death (traditional of the tragic hero due to his hamartia (tragic flaw).

Enter Macbeth: "There’s no art / To find the mind’s construction in the face. / He was a gentleman on whom I built / An absolute trust" (I, iv, 12-14).

Here, Duncan is saying that he is no good at judging a book by its cover. He did this with the old Thane of Cawdor and was betrayed. Here, as soon as he states this, Macbeth enters. Readers know that Macbeth will be the next to betray the king.

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What irony is revealed in the play Macbeth?

One of the most often discussed ironies is the character of Lady Macbeth versus the character of Macbeth.  If one was looking for traditional male and female representations, representations that would have been usual in drama is Shakespeare's day, what we have here (in the early scenes of the play), ironically, is the exact opposite of traditional behaviour.

Lady Macbeth is decisive, apparently unemotional in her decision making, and without scruples.  She does, in Act I, scene v, ask the dark forces to "unsex" her, but she honestly seems to be doing a good enough job on her own, "unsex"-ing herself.  She taunts Macbeth for his more traditionally feminine concern over things like treating Duncan as a proper guest in their home, his fear over noises and things that go bump in the night, and his concern over behaving in the way that he "should.  She calls his behaviour un-manly and all but tells to stop his whining and get on with the killing.  This control that Lady Macbeth exerts would also have been much more of a traditionally man-as-head-of-the-household behaviour--a very ironic characterization.

And Shakespeare doesn't end his ironic portrayals of these characters with these early-in-the-play twists on their gender roles.  In the second half of the play, he transforms them again, ironically, into the very close approximations of mirror images of how the other character behaved in the early scenes.  Macbeth becomes a cold-blooded killing machine, one very similar to Lady Macbeth's early demeanor.  And Lady Macbeth has been rendered sleepless and incapacitated by her guilt over the murder of Duncan, an echo of the early Macbeth.

Shakespeare plays upon the audience's traditional expectations of  masculine and feminine behaviour in Macbeth to create a man and woman who, ironically, both surprise us with their out-of-gender behavior and then surprise us again with another ironic twist in which they seem to switch behavior, becoming much more traditional in their portrayals.

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