Dramatic Irony in Macbeth


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There is dramatic irony in Macbeth's speech in the royal banquet scene, as well as in his conversation with Banquo's ghost. There is much irony in Duncan's speeches as well, when he greets Macbeth as 'O worthiest cousin', his words prove ironical because Macbeth commits the most treacherous act by murdering him.

Dramatic Irony in Macbeth

MACBETH (DRAMATIC IRONY)



Dramatic Irony is the result of information being shared with the audience but withheld from one or more of the characters.

Example: In Act 1 Scene 4, line 50 , the witches hail Macbeth, “thane of Cawdor!”

Dramatic irony: At this point, Macbeth is unaware that the king has conferred this honor upon him because of his valor in battle, so he attributes his fortune to the witches’ prophecy. However, the audience knows Duncan made the pronouncement in Act 1, Scene 3.

Purpose: This dramatic irony is to show Macbeth’s belief that the witches speak the truth and are responsible for his success. This belief can, and does, influence his future actions.

Example: In Act 1, Scene 6, line 1, Duncan says, “This castle hath a pleasant seat”

Dramatic irony: When Duncan reaches the castle, he feels secure and welcome at the home of his loyal kinsmen. However, the audience is aware that he may be murdered that very night. It is also ironic that he calls the castle “a pleasant seat”, when it’s the place where he is eventually killed.

Purpose: This irony is to contribute to suspense. Since the audience knows more than the character, the audience is positioned to wait for the character to gain awareness.

Dramatic Irony in Macbeth

Dramatic Irony in Macbeth

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Dramatic Irony in Macbeth



Introduction
William Shakespeare effectively uses dramatic irony to intrigue the reader and deepen the impact of the consequences Macbeth ultimately faces. Dramatic Irony Definition: Dramatic Irony is a literary term that defines a situation in the play where the reader knows more than the character does. Thesis: Throughout the play Macbeth, the reader is given the advantage of knowing more things than the characters in the play through the literary device, dramatic irony.

This results in suspense and heightens the flaws of the characters.

Background Knowledge
Point #1- Witches lie to Macbeth: Quote: “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor”! – Second Witch (Act 1 Scene 3). This is ironic because Macbeth does not actually know that King Duncan has already made him the Thane of Cawdor. This is meaningful due to the fact that it makes Macbeth trust the witches. It relates to villainous nature because the witches have their evil schemes all planned out beforehand. This is significant because Macbeth needs to be the Thane of Cawdor so that he can have the King sleep in his castle to fulfill their prophecy.

Point #2- Macbeth wears a mask: Quote: “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face. He was a gentleman on who, I built an absolute trust. ” – King Duncan (Act 1 Scene 4). The irony in this extract is made obvious when King Duncan, a noble and truthful king, trusts the Thane of Cawdor, and immediately after he says this- Macbeth enters. Shakespeare presents dramatic irony to the audience when Macbeth enters the room.
Duncan is talking about trust and this is ironic because Macbeth will ultimately kill King Duncan. Macbeth’s duplicity is displayed when Duncan greets Macbeth by saying “O worthiest cousin” to which he responds “the service and loyalty I owe in doing it pays itself.

Point #3- Macbeth wishing Banquo safety on his journey: Quote: “This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air nimbly and sweetly recommends itself unto our gentle senses. ”- King Duncan (Act 1 Scene 6). This section highlights the incredible Irony of the situation.
King Duncan has been invited into Macbeth’s home, to dine and enjoy himself. He expects to have a great time and is ridiculously thankful, yet what makes this ironic is the fact that the hostess that he is praising is conspiring to kill him he will be murdered that night. This represents the duplicitous nature of Macbeth, as the outward nobility of his character is contrasted greatly to his true spirit.

Point #4- Macbeth planning to kill Banquo: Quote: “I wish your horses swift, and sure foot- and so I do commend you to their backs. Farewell. Let every man be master of his time till seven at night- To make society the sweeter welcome, we will keep yourself till supper-time alone- While then, god be with you”- Macbeth. (Act 3 Scene 1). The irony is shown because we (the readers) know that Macbeth is plotting the murder of Banquo due to the witches’ prophecy. This is meaningful because we are learning more about Macbeth’s character and it develops tension for the reader keeping them interested. This relates to the plays dramatic irony as it shows how he is trying to be friendly to Banquo; meanwhile, he is trying to murder King Duncan.
Dramatic Irony highlights character development.

Point #5- Macbeth and Lady Macbeth switch roles: Quote: “Naught’s had, all’s spent, where our desire is got without content. ‘Tis safer to be that which we destroy than be destruction dwell in doubtful of joy. ” – Lady Macbeth (Act 3 Scene2). Dramatic irony is present because just prior to this scene, Macbeth has convinced murderers to kill Banquo to prevent him from getting his way. Although, Lady Macbeth speaks to how she would rather be killed than be the killer.
The irony is that Lady Macbeth, the original killer of Duncan (person who convinced Macbeth) now hates killing, but Macbeth, the originally feeble one now loves it. It relates to evil genius by highlighting that Macbeth will not let anyone, not even his best friend, stop him in his insatiable quest of power. Shakespeare has done this to position the audience to further hate Macbeth.

Point #6- Witches fool Macbeth for the second time: Quote: “Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnham wood to high Dunsinian Hill shall come against him. ”- Witches (Act 4 Scene 1).
The witches are stating that Macbeth will always be king, until the day that the trees of Great Birnham wood march up to Dunsinian Hill, and that day will almost certainly never come true. This is very much ironic due to the fact that Macduff was able to kill Macbeth because he did not have a natural “woman born” birth. The witches have made a very ironic prophecy.

Point #7- Lady Macduff lies to her son: Quote: “Son: Was my father a traitor, Mother, Lady Macduff: Ay, that he was, Son: What is a traitor, Lady Macduff: Why one that swears and lies”. Act 4 Scene 2). This scene is between Lady Macduff and her son when Macduff has “run off” to England. This scene displays dramatic irony because while Lady Macduff is telling her son that his father is a traitor and liar, Macduff is gone to England to save the horrors that Scotland is now facing because of the evil King Macbeth. It is also dramatic tension as the audience knows that this is leading up to the hazards of living in the kingdom. The scene foreshadows the knowledge that something bad will happen.
Point #8- Ross sugar coats the news to Macduff: Quote: “Macduff: How does my wife? Ross: Well, too. ” (Act 4, Scene 3). This is an instance of dramatic irony because not only do we (the readers) know that Ross is lying about Macduff’s family but we also know that Macduff’s family has been murdered. This quotation is significant to the understanding of Macbeth’s character. Evidently, Macbeth is willing to go to any extent to keep his position as king and abuses his power in the massacre of many innocent people.

Reference
Clift, Rebecca. (1999). Irony in conversation. Language in Society. 28. 10.1017/S0047404599004029. This article proposes the adoption of Goffman’s concept of to characterize irony across its forms; the suggestion that this framing is achieved by a shift of footing reveals links between verbal irony and other forms of talk. Examination of irony in conversation shows how the shift of footing allows for detachment, enabling the ironist to make evaluations in response to perceived transgressions with reference to common assumptions.

Dramatic Irony in Macbeth

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