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The Crucial Conflict Of Macbeth: Appearance Versus Reality

1464 words - 6 pages

As the apex of William Shakespeare’s exceptional literary career, Macbeth exemplifies the utilization of literary devices to accent themes and ideas. Though set in the midst of an actual struggle in eleventh or twelfth century Scotland, this classic tale of envy, power, and corruption was written in the sixteenth century. Macbeth chronicles the degradation of Macbeth, his morals, and his conscience as the Scottish thane increases his power through murder and intimidation. Shakespeare highlights the irony of the actions of both Macbeth and other central characters throughout the play. Parallel scenes are also commonly used to stress the contrast between personas of various characters and ...view middle of the document...

This instance of irony exemplifies the disparity between Macbeth's honorable appearance and the sickening reality of the terrible state of his morals by accentuating both the good traits that appear to dominate the loyal Macbeth and the reality of the evil thoughts that occupy more and more of his waking mind. This essential discussion first mentions the event that creates the plot of the remainder of the play: the murder of King Duncan, but is not the most significant instance of irony in the play.
Although irony is important throughout the play, the most significant example of this literary device is found in the description of Macbeth’s castle, Inverness, upon the arrival of King Duncan, the noblemen, and an assortment of attendants. The king mentions the overall agreeable atmosphere, while Banquo, a nobleman, remarks upon the presence of martlets, birds typically found nesting in churches:
This castle has a pleasant seat; the air
Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself
Unto our gentle senses.
This guest of summer,
The temple-haunting martlet, does approve. . . (1.6.1-4)
The apparent situational irony here stems from the stark contrast between Macbeth's castle and a church, while the more significant situational irony is created by Duncan's remarks on the apparent goodness of the place where he is to die. The situational irony of Banquo's comment is simple yet powerful, for after reading the preceding scene, a careful reader knows the evil that dwells within both the castle and its master. This evil presence indicates the basic difference between the appearance of Macbeth's castle and a church: the central figure of a church is holy, but Macbeth is evil. The description of such an evil place would be expected to to be dark, dank, and undesirable. Despite the power of the situational irony of the nobleman's description, King Duncan's portrayal of the castle creates situational irony that is of far more importance to the story. The situational irony of the king's remarks is created by the dissimilarity of his perception of Macbeth and the nobleman's true self. Throughout the beginning of the play, the king is taken in by Macbeth’s honorable, loyal, and trustworthy appearance and, therefore, fails to note that the immoral, envious, and deceitful thane is, in reality, dominated by evil. By using both a powerfully ironic statement and a more measured one, Shakespeare emphasizes the growing rift between Macbeth's appearance and the man he truly is.
Parallel scenes are also used throughout the play to create the same effect as irony. The second scene of the play opens with a wounded Scot telling of the glorious Macbeth proudly slaying kerns, a type of lightly armed Irish soldier (1.1.10-17). This scene is paralleled by the seventh scene of Act V, in which Macduff contemptuously refers to the killing of kerns: “I cannot strike at wretched kerns, whose arms/ are hired to bear their staves” (5.7.17-18). At the opening of the drama, Macbeth...

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