Irony In "MacBeth"

Essay by car1a26High School, 11th grade May 2006

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Concerning human evil, Shakespeare's tragedy is about Macbeth's bloody rise to power, including the murders of MacBeth's competition, and the pathology of evil deeds generating still more evil deeds. As a fundamental frame of the play's most memorable character is Lady Macbeth. Like her husband, Lady Macbeth's ambition for power leads her into an unnatural, realm of insomnia and madness. But while Macbeth responds to the prophecies of the play's famous witches, Lady Macbeth goes even further by figuratively "unsexing" herself. Lady MacBeth is arguably rehumanized by her insanity and her suicide. The characters are taken through emotional roller coasters but their ironically strong marriage rests on loving grounds as the tragedy unfolds.

Throughout the play, the witches lurk and have dark thoughts that tempt MacBeth and perhaps encourage him to do dark deeds. They are symbols of irrational and instinctive evil. MacBeth, having great desires for the throne, was extremely eager and accepting of the witches' first prophecies.

One would think that such characters as the witches would provoke an uneasy feeling, and that trust and agreement would be out of the question. Being a warrior himself, MacBeth was fully aware of the scandals and tricks that arose during war, so it must have been MacBeth's high ambitions that made him ignore the flashing red light that perhaps the witches weren't the most trustworthy and faithful. Although the prophecy did come true, doing so almost straight away, MacBeth didn't even think twice about the possibility that it might be a trick. He believed the witches prophecies in such a way that he even murdered in order to make them come true. It's ironic that he trusts the witches' prophecies so devotedly, but doesn't trust his own guards- the symbols of protection and reliance- when they so bluntly warn him that he is being invaded near the end of the play. He decides to stay trusting to the toying of the witches and their misleading prophecies.

At the start of the play, Lady MacBeth proves herself to be a stronger, more ruthless and more ambitious person than her husband countless times. Lady MacBeth proves unfazed by the killings because she plotted the murder and was the pushing effort behind MacBeth to carry it out. MacBeth is obviously guilty and lacking masculinity because he becomes obsessed with washing the blood off of his hands and experiences regret. The play implies masculinity to be the key factor in gaining success, with Lady Macbeth requesting, "Unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty."(1.5.40-42) and with men being remembered for dying courageously in battle. However, it is contradictory that the methods Lady MacBeth uses for her crafty murders are in fact female qualities such as deception and manipulation. Further on in the play, her effectiveness and immunity to emotion weakens as her sensitivity strengthens. She begins to fall into the same regret that troubled MacBeth in the beginning, and tries to wash away the invisible blood from her hands as a sign of insanity. She then kills herself offstage to end her self-inflicted troubles.

MacBeth and his wife go through opposite emotional changes because on one hand, Macbeth- a brave and capable warrior- hesitates to murder, and therefore isn't able to prove that his ambitions are strong enough to win the throne. With the witches prophecies in the back of his mind, his ambitions in his head, and Lady MacBeth's persuasions, "Look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under't" (1.5.63-64), he becomes tempted enough to murder Duncan. This sets off a series of other murders he composes himself. He develops a hard shell and with each murder, and the seriousness seems to faze him less. It is only when he encounters MacDuff that he decides he has shed too much blood, and ironically, gets killed. Just as the witches had determined previously, MacBeth's so called "dreaded" life comes to an end with the trick of the prophecy; MacDuff was born by cesarean section, so was technically the only one able to murder MacBeth.

"Two truths are told,"(1.3.131) in MacBeth, because there were twists of fate where the results of an action would "bounce back" and affect the person who had committed the action. When Duncan has Donalbain, the thane of Cawdor, executed, he gives the title to the vanquisher, MacBeth. It is ironic that MacBeth, the overwhelmingly evil character, is rewarded for killing at the beginning, which sets off his pattern of murders. To MacBeth, killing has a purpose and is rewarding to him because it allow him to maintain his throne. But soon after, MacBeth expresses an insincere wish that Banquo was present because this murder is beginning to get to his head. Subsequently, Banquo's ghost appears. MacBeth's sarcastic wish comes true and he acts like a mad man in front of his guests. In this case, his unwanted wish came back to haunt him, literally.

The witches play an important role in MacBeth because they seem to be able to determine his status. Their predictions and prophecies advance him to his high status, but also take everything away from him. It is partly Macbeth's ambitions and confidence that make him so oblivious. He felt that everyone that had endangered him, he had already killed, and thought that nobody else could endanger him or his throne. He was on top of the world saying, "Bring me no more reports; let them fly all: ...I cannot taint with fear." (5.4.1-4) but the witches prophecies blind-sided him with their riddles. Even the most invincible king was vanquished in the end.