Uncertainty, Ambiguity and Dramatic Irony in Macbeth Essay

Date:  2022-01-04 19:22:55
4 pages  (969 words)
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Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's great tragedies that are extremely well known for their many-sided, persuasive and intriguing exploration of the human virtues and vices. It is a play that dwells on the corrupting influence of an unbridled ambition and hunger for power upon a man's moral principles. Just like many other Shakespeare's plays, it also deals with the idea that things are not always what they seem. The theme of uncertainty and irony of human existence is explored in the play through the characterization of Macbeth and his wife, the inversion of the gender roles and also extensive use of both dramatic and verbal irony.

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The first illusion that Shakespeares consistently and ingeniously undermines is the impression that Macbeth is an embodiment of evil. In fact, he is not the villain he seems to be. Macbeth is a very complex character. If Shakespeare had portrayed him as an incarnation of evil, the character would have been flat and boring. But there is no black and white interpretation of Macbeth's personality. Though he, indeed, is wading to the power through slaughter, at the same time the remnants of his conscience torture him, which means that his soul has not yet been entirely corrupted. Already in the middle of the first act, Macbeth is shown to be conscious and ashamed of his lust for the crown: Stars, hide your fires // Let not light see my black and deep desires (Act I, Scene 4, lines 57-58). Macbeth obviously feels guilty for harboring such disloyal sentiments. Later on in the play remorse and guilt continue to torture Macbeth when he vividly remembers how kind the king had been to him (Act I, Scene 7) and the murder he has committed horrifies him (Act II, Scenes 1 and 2) until his conversation with Lady Macbeth helps him overcome any previous doubts (Act III, Scene 2). But this also proves that Macbeth feels love for his wife and profoundly respects her, even though she honestly admits that she would prefer to kill her baby than miss an opportunity to become a queen. Thus, on the one hand, Macbeth is ambitious, vain, impulsive, gullible, but on the other hand, he is also brave, imaginative, risky, passionate. This side of Macbeth's character shows that he is an ordinary human being struggling with the demons inside his soul and losing this fight. Therefore, in the play the good is shown not as a simple foil of the evil but rather as a choice of struggling with the evil in the human soul which in this way becomes a battlefield.

Another false impression is that Lady Macbeth is stronger than her husband. Indeed, at first gender roles are subverted in this tragedy. Lady Macbeth is more decisive than her husband, and Macbeth fully depends on her. She seems to be more manly than he is. This is why this couple does not have any children. When Lady Macbeth says to her husband, When you durst do it, then you were a man // And to be more than what you were, you would // Be so much more the man Act I, Scene 7, lines 56-58), she defines a man as a human being ready to act no matter what the circumstances and consequences are. She herself fully matches this definition. In contrast, she portrays a woman as a weak, hesitate, cowardly figure: O, these flaws and starts, // Impostors to true fear, would well become // A womans story at a winters fire, // Authorized by her grandam (Act III, Scene 4, lines 76-79). In these lines, Lady Macbeth is also covertly saying that Macbeth is acting like a woman rather than a man. Obviously, from the very beginning, Lady Macbeth is much stronger than her husband. The most striking example is the moment when she rushes to return the bloodstained daggers to the sleeping guards. But at the end of the play, she turns out to be weaker than Macbeth as she not only loses her mind, but also commits suicide while Macbeth goes on fighting. This ending restores the traditional gender roles and the natural order which was broken by the couple.

Finally, verbal and dramatic types of irony are important means of explaining the idea that things are not always what they seem. There is a lot of dramatic irony in the play. For example, the witches greet Macbeth with his new title, though he is not yet aware of the King's benevolence (Act I, Scene 3). Another example is the fragment where King Duncan compliments Macbeth and his wife on being good hosts (Act I, Scene 6) while the viewers are already in the know about Macbeth's immoral and treacherous ambitions. Verbal irony is also actively employed throughout the play. For instance, Macbeth says, Twas a rough night (Act II, Scene 3, line 36) implying that it was hard because he had to kill King Duncan, but Lennox innocently believes they are talking about the mysterious weather phenomena. Also, when Macbeth calls Banquo their chief guest (Act 3, Scene 1, line 11) he means that his former friend is to get a special treatment, i.e. be murdered. All these examples of irony help Shakespeare reveal the precipice between what seems and what really is in the world which does not live according to the natural order of things.


In the modern world, people are only too easily brainwashed by the traditional and new digital media, huge corporations with their multi-million advertising campaigns and cunning political technologies. In this context, Macbeth seems to be a play highly relevant for contemporary culture as it attracts the attention to the idea that things are not always what they seem and teaches the audience to look beyond the surface and think critically.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. The New Folger Editions ed. http://www.folgerdigitaltexts.org, www.folgerdigitaltexts.org/html/Mac.html.

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