An example of fear and lack of trust and shown in Macbeth.

An aspect of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth that is worthy of recognition and exploration is Lennox’s use of irony when expressing his beliefs of Macbeth’s guilt in Act III Scene VI. Lennox starts to piece the recent murders together by discussing them with the Lord. He doesn’t want to speak too plainly, so he uses irony to insinuate his theory of Macbeth being behind the recent deaths of both Duncan and Banquo as he quotes:

“Who cannot want the thought how monstrous it was for Malcolm and for Donalbain to kill their gracious father? Damnèd fact! How it did grieve Macbeth! 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? Ay, and wisely too, for ’twould have angered any heart alive to hear the men deny ’t. So that, I say, he has borne all things well. (…)”  

Lennox presents the idea of how all the recent murders have conveniently benefitted Macbeth. In doing this, Lennox portrays Macbeth as the main suspect but disguises his theory to protect himself by using irony. The main intention of Lennox using this strategy –  putting forward his idea to the Lord – is prompted by his fear of Macbeth. If the theory that Lennox has pieced together is true, a fact the audience is fully aware of, Lennox frets that he will be killed by Macbeth if his speculations were to be exposed: the sole motive behind Banquo’s murder. Additionally, this aspect of Macbeth shows the general lack of trust between people in the play. By using irony, Lennox can cover his steps if his speech was to be overheard and questioned, defending himself by claiming his words should be taken at face value. The reasons behind Lennox’s use of irony in Act III, Scene VI of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth represent great significance as they highlight the common fear of Macbeth and the misuse of his power as well as it underlines the lack of trust during the time of Macbeth’s oppression.  

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  1. Hi Bella,

    Thanks so much for sharing this piece. I agree with you, the impact of Macbeth’s actions on those around him is a very interesting line of inquiry. You’ve demonstrated this ably in this paragraph – and I believe presented a very convincing case to suggest that an actor playing Lennox should ‘play against meaning’ and present his description of Macbeth as ironic. Plausible deniability and all those things seem essential when around despotic tyrants!

    I would suggest that, should you pursue this idea (and I hope you do) you look at a range of techniques of language and theatre that aid the transmission of these ideas. Here, you’ve looked at irony. There’s definitely a lot of room for exploration of Dramatic Irony as well – and you can also explore Shakespeare’s use of figurative language and even what’s happening with the metre when people are reacting with fear or anxiety about Macbeth and his actions and intentions.

    Other opportunities include an exploration of how people’s responses to Macbeth change over time, or to look at contemporary resonances. Are there places/people in the world who are behaving like Macbeth and if so, how to people demonstrate their fear of him?

    I’m excited to see where you go with this – and I hope you get well soon and we can see you back in class.




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