Act 1, Scene 1
On a heath in Scotland, three witches, the Weird Sisters, wait to meet Macbeth amidst thunder and lightning. Their conversation is filled with paradox and equivocation: they say that they will meet Macbeth "when the battle's lost and won" and when "fair is foul and foul is fair" (10).
Act 1, Scene 2
The Scottish army is at war with the Norwegian army. Duncan, king of Scotland, meets a captain returning from battle. The captain informs them of Macbeth and Banquo's bravery in battle. He also describes Macbeth's attack on the castle of the treacherous Macdonald, in which Macbeth triumphed and planted Macdonald’s head on the battlements of the castle. The Thanes of Ross and Angus enter with the news that the Thane of Cawdor has sided with Norway. Duncan decides to execute the disloyal thane and give the title of Cawdor to Macbeth.
Act 1, Scene 3
The Weird Sisters meet on the heath and wait for Macbeth. He arrives with Banquo, repeating the witches' paradoxical phrase by stating "So foul and fair a day I have not seen" (36). The witches hail him as "Thane of Glamis" (his present title), "Thane of Cawdor" (the title he will soon receive officially), and "king hereafter" (46-48). Their greeting startles and seems to frighten Macbeth. When Banquo questions the witches as to who they are, they greet him with the phrases "Lesser than Macbeth and greater," "Not so happy, yet much happier," and a man who "shall get kings, though [he] be none" (63-65).
When Macbeth questions them further, the witches vanish into thin air. Almost as soon as they disappear, Ross and Angus appear with the news that the king has granted Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth and Banquo step aside to discuss this news; Banquo is of the opinion that the title of Thane of Cawdor might "enkindle" Macbeth to seek the crown as well (119). Macbeth questions why such happy news causes his "seated heart [to] knock at [his] ribs / Against the use of nature," and his thoughts turn immediately and with terror to murdering the king in order to fulfill the witches' second prophesy (135-36). When Ross and Angus notice Macbeth's distraught state, Banquo dismisses it as Macbeth's unfamiliarity with his new title.
Act 1, Scene 4
Duncan demands to know whether the former Thane of Cawdor has been executed. His son Malcolm assures him that he has witnessed the former Thane’s becoming death. While Duncan muses about the fact that he placed "absolute trust" in the treacherous Thane, Macbeth enters. Duncan thanks Macbeth and Banquo for their loyalty and bravery. He consequently announces his decision to make his son Malcolm the heir to the throne of Scotland (something that would not have happened automatically, since his position was elected and not inherited). Duncan then states that he plans to visit Macbeth at his home in Inverness. Macbeth leaves to prepare his home for the royal visit, pondering the stumbling block of Malcolm that now hinders his ascension to the throne. The king follows with Banquo.
Act 1, Scene 5
At Inverness, Lady Macbeth reads a letter from Macbeth that describes his meeting with the witches. She fears that his nature is not ruthless enough-- he's "too full o' th' milk of human kindness” (15)—to murder Duncan and assure the completion of the witches' prophesy. He has ambition enough, she claims, but lacks the gumption to act on it. She then implores him to hurry home so that she can "pour [her] spirits in [his] ear" (24)—in other words, goad him on to the murder he must commit. When a messenger arrives with the news that Duncan is coming, Lady Macbeth calls on the heavenly powers to "unsex me here" and fill her with cruelty, taking from her all natural womanly compassion (39). When Macbeth arrives, she greets him as Glamis and Cawdor and urges him to "look like the innocent flower, / but be the serpent under’t" (63-64). She then says that she will make all the preparations for the king's visit and subsequent murder.
Act 1, Scene 6
Duncan arrives at Inverness with Banquo and exchanges pleasantries with Lady Macbeth. The king inquires after Macbeth's whereabouts and she offers to bring him to where Macbeth awaits.
Act 1, Scene 7
Alone on stage, Macbeth agonizes over whether to kill Duncan, recognizing the act of murdering the king as a terrible sin. He struggles in particular with the idea of murdering a man—a relative, no less—who trusts and loves him. He would like the king's murder to be over and regrets the fact that he possesses “vaulting ambition" without the ruthlessness to ensure the attainment of his goals (27).
As Lady Macbeth enters, Macbeth tells her that he "will proceed no further in this business" (31). But Lady Macbeth taunts him for his fears and ambivalence, telling him he will only be a man when he carries out the murder. She states that she herself would go so far as to take her own nursing baby and dash its brains if necessary. She counsels him to "screw [his] courage to the sticking place" and details the way they will murder the king (60). They will wait until he falls asleep, she says, and thereafter intoxicate his bodyguards with drink. This will allow them to murder Duncan and lay the blame on the two drunken bodyguards. Macbeth is astonished by her cruelty but resigns to follow through with her plans.
Fate, Prophecy, and Equivocation
Just as the Porter in Act 2 extemporizes about the sin of equivocation, the play figures equivocation as one of its most important themes. Starting from the Weird Sisters' first words that open the play, audiences quickly ascertain that things are not what they seem. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word "equivocation" has two different meanings—both of which are applicable to this play. The first is:
“The using (a word) in more than one sense; ambiguity or uncertainty of meaning in words; also . . . misapprehension arising from the ambiguity of terms.”
This definition as simple verbal ambiguity is the one that audiences are most familiar with—and one that plays an important role in the play. The Porter’s speech on equivocation in Act 2, however, refers to a more active type of equivocation. The second definition in the OED: reads:
The use of words or expressions that are susceptible of a double signification, with a view to mislead; esp. the expression of a virtual falsehood in the form of a proposition which (in order to satisfy the speaker's conscience) is verbally true.
This kind of equivocation is similar to lying; it is intentionally designed to mislead and confuse.
The intentional ambiguity of terms is what we see in the prophesies of the Weird Sisters. Their speech is full of paradox and confusion, starting with their first assertion that "fair is foul and foul is fair" (I i 10). The witches' prophesies are intentionally ambiguous. The alliteration and rhymed couplets in which they speak also contributes to the effect of instability and confusion in their words. For many readers, more than one reading is required to grasp a sense of what the witches mean. It is not surprising, therefore, that these "imperfect speakers" can easily bedazzle and confuse Macbeth throughout the course of the play (I iii 68).
Just as their words are confusing, it is unclear as to whether the witches merely predict or actually effect the future. Banquo fears, for example, that the witches' words will "enkindle [Macbeth] unto the crown"—in other words, that they will awaken in Macbeth an ambition that is already latent in him (I iii 119). His fears seem well-founded: as soon as the witches mention the crown, Macbeth's thoughts turn to murder. The witches’ power is thus one of prophecy, but prophecy through suggestion. For Macbeth, the witches can be understood as representing the final impetus that drive him to his pre-determined end. The prophecy is in this sense self-fulfilling.
The oracular sisters are in fact connected etymologically to the Fates of Greek mythology. The word "weird" derives from the Old English word "wyrd," meaning "fate." And not all fate is self-fulfilling. In Banquo's case, in contrast to Macbeth’s, the witches seem only to predict the future. For unlike Macbeth, Banquo does not act on the witches' prediction that he will father kings—and yet the witches' prophesy still comes true. The role of the weird sisters in the story, therefore, is difficult to define or determine. Are they agents of fate or a motivating force? And why do they suddenly disappear from the play in the third act?
The ambiguity of the Weird Sisters reflects a greater theme of doubling, mirrors, and schism between inner and outer worlds that permeates the work as a whole. Throughout the play, characters, scenes, and ideas are doubled. As Duncan muses about the treachery of the Thane of Cawdor at the beginning of the play, for example, Macbeth enters the scene:
KING DUNCAN: There's no art
To find the mind's construction in the face.
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust.
Enter MACBETH, BANQUP, ROSS, and ANGUS.
To MACBETH: O worthiest cousin,
The sin of my ingratitude even now
Was heavy on me! (I iv 11-16)
The dramatic irony of Duncan’s trust is realized only later in the play. Similarly, the captain in Scene 2 makes a battle report that becomes in effect a prophecy:
For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name!—
Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valour’s minion
Carved out his passage till he faced the slave,
Which ne’er shook hands nor bade farewell to him
Till he unseamed him from the nave to th’chops,
And fixed his head upon our battlements. (I i16-23)
The passage can be interpreted as follows: Macbeth “disdains fortune” by disregarding the natural course of action and becomes king through a “bloody execution” of Duncan; Macduff, who was born from a Caesarian section (his mother being “unseamed. . . from the nave to th’chops”) and who “ne’er shook hands nor bade farewell” decapitates Macbeth and hangs his head up in public.
As in all Shakespearean plays, mirroring among characters serves to heighten their differences. Thus Macbeth, the young, valiant, cruel traitor/king has a foil in Duncan, the old, venerable, peaceable, and trusting king. Lady Macbeth, who casts off her femininity and claims to feel no qualms about killing her own children, is doubled in Lady Macduff, who is a model of a good mother and wife. Banquo's failure to act on the witches' prophesy is mirrored in Macbeth's drive to realize all that the witches foresee.
Similarly, much of the play is also concerned with the relation between contrasting inner and outer worlds. Beginning with the equivocal prophecies of the Weird Sisters, appearances seldom align with reality. Lady Macbeth, for example, tells her husband to "look like the innocent flower, / but be the serpent under’t" (63-64). Macbeth appears to be a loyal Thane, but secretly plans revenge. Lady Macbeth appears to be a gentle woman but vows to be "unsexed" and swears on committing bloody deeds. Macbeth is also a play about the inner world of human psychology, as will be illustrated in later acts through nightmares and guilt-ridden hallucinations. Such contrast between "being" and "seeming" serves as another illustration of equivocation.
The Macbeths and The Corruption of Nature
One of the most ambiguous aspects of the play is the character of Macbeth himself. Unlike other Shakespearean villains like Iago or Richard III, Macbeth is not entirely committed to his evil actions. When he swears to commit suicide, he must overcome an enormous resistance from his conscience. At the same time, he sees as his own biggest flaw not a lack of moral values but rather a lack of motivation to carry out his diabolical schemes. In this he resembles Hamlet, who soliloquizes numerous times about his inaction. But unlike Hamlet, Macbeth does not have a good reason to kill, nor is the man he kills evil—far from it. And finally, while Macbeth becomes increasingly devoted to murderous actions, his soliloquies are so full of eloquent speech and pathos that it is not difficult to sympathize with him. Thus at the heart of the play lies a tangle of uncertainty.
If Macbeth is indecisive, Lady Macbeth is just the opposite—a character with such a single vision and drive for advancement that she brings about her own demise. And yet her very ruthlessness brings about another form of ambiguity, for in swearing to help Macbeth realize the Weird Sisters' prophecy, she must cast off her femininity. In a speech at the beginning of Scene 5, she calls on the spirits of the air to take away her womanhood:
Come you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood,
Stop up th'access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
Th'effect and it. (I v 38-45)
Lady Macbeth sees "remorse" as one of the names for feminine compassion—of which she must rid herself. Thus she must be "unsexed." This does not mean, however, that in rejecting her femininity she becomes manly. Instead, she becomes a woman devoid of the sexual characteristics and sentimentality that make her a woman. She becomes entirely unnatural and inhuman. Like the supernatural Weird Sisters with their beards, Lady Macbeth becomes something that does not fit into the natural world.
The corruption of nature is a theme that surfaces and resurfaces in the same act. When Duncan greets Macbeth, for example, he states that he has “begun to plant thee and will labor / to make thee full of growing" (I iv 28-29). Following the metaphor of the future as lying in the “seeds of time,” Macbeth is compared to a plant that Duncan will look after (I iii 56). By murdering Duncan, then, Macbeth perverts nature by severing himself effectively from the very "root" that feeds him. For this reason, perhaps, the thought of murdering Duncan causes Macbeth's heart to "knock at [his] ribs / Against the use of nature" (I iii 135-36). Just as the Weird Sisters pervert the normal course of nature by telling their prophecy, Macbeth upsets the course of nature by his regicide.
Reflecting the disruption of nature, the dialogue between Macbeth and Lady in the scene following the murder becomes heavy, graceless, and almost syncopated. Lady Macbeth, for example, says:
What thou wouldst highly,
That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false
And yet wouldst wrongly win. Thou'd'st have, great Glamis,
That which cries "Thus thou must do," if thou have it,
And that which rather thou dost fear to do,
Than wishest should be undone. (I v 28-23).
The repetition of the phrase "thou wouldst," in all its permutations, confounds the flow of speech. The speech is clotted with accents, tangling meter and scansion, and the alliteration is almost tongue-twisting, slowing the rhythm of the words. Just as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have corrupted nature, the language Shakespeare uses in these scenes disrupts the flow of his usually smoothly iambic meter.
Yet another part of the theme of corruption of nature lies in the compression of time that occurs throughout the act. When Lady Macbeth reads Macbeth’s letter, she states: Th[ese] letters have transported me beyond / This ignorant present, and I feel now / The future in the instant" (I v 54-56). By telling the future to Macbeth and Banquo, the Weird Sisters upset the natural course of time and bring the future to the present. Thus when Macbeth vacillates over whether or not to kill Duncan, he wants to leap into the future: "If it were done when ‘tis done, then ‘twere well / It were done quickly" (I vii 1-2). He wants the murder to be over quickly—indeed so quickly that it is over before the audience even registers it. Just as equivocation twists the meaning of words, Macbeth's murderous desires twist the meaning of time.
Thus beginning with the Weird Sisters, equivocation in all its permutations is threaded throughout the fabric of the first act. Over the course of the play, the breach between the worlds of reality and illusion that is the core of equivocation grows ever wider.
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Equivocation in Macbeth In Macbeth, Shakespeare uses the theme of equivocation to effectively illustrate the evil nature of the witches. Equivocation is the use of ambiguous expressions in order to mislead. The prophecies of the witches play a mischief in this play, as they are a form of deception that at times use vague language to dodge an issue. The three influential prophecies, which the witches make in this play, are that the protagonist Macbeth will become the king of Scotland, Banquo will be the father of the king of Scotland, and Macbeth will not be killed until the Birnam wood moves to Dunsinane hill.
The sources of these prophecies are the witches who put together the devious words into Macbeth’s mind, which demonstrates the evil nature of the witches. In Macbeth, one of the earliest prophecies that the witches make is that Macbeth will become the king of Scotland. “All hail, Macbeth! that shalt be king hereafter! “(I. iii. 50) is the prophecy in which no indication of the doom of Macbeth is present. The literal meaning of this apocalypse is that Macbeth will become the king of Scotland. Thus, his ambition to take the pursuit of breaking the natural order to become the king becomes ungovernable.
This is evident when Macbeth is shown hallucinating of a dagger before he kills Duncan, the real king of Scotland. Macbeth says, “Is this a dagger, which I see before me, / The handle toward my hand? Come let me clutch thee”(II. i. 33-34), which shows that he is in a great doubt on whether to assassinate Duncan or not. The metaphorical meaning of the revelation disclosed by the witches is that Macbeth will ultimately be ruined in the future after he reaches his ambition of becoming the king, as he will have to face the resistance of the loyal nobles of king Duncan including Banquo, Macduff, Malcom, etc.
Macbeth is greatly affected by this prophecy and becomes the target of the mendacious and perplexing words spoken by the witches and kills the king. Hence, the witches are of evil nature because they indirectly ruin Macbeth’s life. Equivocation and Double Meanings in Macbeth Shakespeare uses equivocation not to confuse but to either get across multiple meanings or to leave dialogue and events in the play open ended. Equivocation can be seen with the witches and whenever they talk. The witches are themselves a vague set of characters who talk in a puzzling riddle-like manner.
For instance when Macbeth goes to see them for the second time they are very vague about predicting his future, intentionally confusing him and making him overly confident. An example of this riddled dialogue goes like this: All (three witches): Listen, but speak not to’t. Apparition: Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are: Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until; Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill Shall come against him. Macbeth: That will never be: Who can impress the forest, bid the tree … That excerpt shows how the witches twist and play with Macbeth’s mind and feelings.
By the end of the Apparition’s lines, Macbeth is convinced he can not be killed by anyone, and so grows in confidence till seething and almost rupturing with it. It also shows Shakespeare’s use of equivocation and how, unless certain lines are studied, their true, if vague, meaning cannot be seen or understood. The quoted phrase, “fair is foul and foul is fair” is used frequently, the phrase itself is an oxymoron. Early in the play the reader sees Macbeth as the hero because he has saved all of Scotland from the Norwegians. Duncan, honoring Macbeth, says, “More is thy due than more than all can pay. (Act 1, Scene )
Towards the middle of the play the reader suddenly begins to pity Macbeth, slowly realizing his encroaching insanity for what it is, a downward spiral of death and increased mistakes. Finally, at the end of the play, the reader’s opinion of Macbeth moves more towards hate and a feeling that Macbeth is unmistakably evil. As the second witch said: By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes: (-Act 4, Scene 1) Such is Macbeth’s fair to foul story in a flash. There is also Lady Macbeth, Macduff, Malcolm, and Donalbain, and perhaps even Banquo.
Each of these character’s development follows the “fair is foul and foul is fair” format. In the beginning of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth shows a beautiful face, yet what she says in private is evil. In fact in Act 1, Scene 5, she says: “Art not without ambition; but without The illness that should attend it; what thou wouldst highly, That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false, And yet wouldst wrongly win: thou’dst have, great Glamis… She is saying that Macbeth is ambitious but lacks the brutality of character (the illness) to carryout any evil deeds through.
After this Lady Macbeth continues on, trying to convince Macbeth to murder Duncan and eventually succeeds. From the end of the first Act through the 2nd, Lady Macbeth has shown her “innocent-self” perfectly capable of committing heinous deeds. Yet eventually the “illness” gets the better of her, as it did Macbeth, and she kills herself unable to stand living with her burdens. On the other side of the “fair is foul and foul is fair” phrase there is Malcolm and his loyal followers. Malcolm and Donalbain were seen as traitorous murders as they fled their fathers’ murder.
Because of Lord and Lady Macbeth’s craftiness, there were seen as traitors along with the grooms. For the people at Macbeth’s Inverness castle their fleeing only confirmed suspicions. In Act 2, Scene 4, Macduff says, “… Malcolm, and Donalbain, the king’s two sons, are stol’n away and fled, which puts upon them suspicion of the deed. ” In the end Malcolm comes back with an army in tow to avenge the wrong done against him and his country men.
As Macduff stated: Hail, king! For so thou art: behold, where stands The usurper’s cursed head: the time is free: I see thee compass’d with thy kingdom’s pearl, That speak my salutation in their minds; Whose voices I desire aloud with mine: Hail, king of Scotland! As for Macduff himself, he was also thought a traitor half way through the play. Being distrustful and disgruntled with Macbeth he runs to England to join Malcolm. Later though, after being tested by Malcolm to find out where his loyalties lie, Macduff finds out that Macbeth has slain his family. Wrapped in a shroud of vengeance he returns with Malcolm to take Scotland back. Like Malcolm and Donalbain, Macduff goes from “foul to fair. Fair is foul, and foul is fair Hover through the fog and filthy air. – (Act 1, Scene 1)
“Fair is foul and foul is fair” is necessary for the development of certain characters in Macbeth, such as Macbeth. The statement itself is vague enough so that the audience will never know what the change from fair to foul will. The quote also suggests that the audience and the characters in the play shouldn’t trust anyone because the characters may not be what they seem to be. This famous quote is the epitome of the play’s subtleties and double meanings.
In William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, the theme of ambiguity and equivocation stands our quite clearly. The Oxford definition of equivocation is: ‘use of ambiguity to conceal the truth’. Macbeth’s voluntary misinterpretation of the ambiguity and equivocation of the witches relates to the play’s theme. After the first of the witches’ prophecies comes true, Macbeth begins to believe in their truth. However, he also believes that the prophecies must all lead to his enrichment and empowerment. The use of equivocation in Macbeth also incorporates a sub-theme of appearance versus reality and the powers of evil.
In the end, he twists the witches’ words to fit his own purposes, ignoring the possibility that the prophecies might have other, less fortunate meanings (equivocation). This voluntary misinterpretation, committed in pursuit of power and ambition, leads Macbeth to perform certain actions which result in the death of the king, his own friends, Lady Macbeth’s madness and suicide and eventually his own death. From the beginning of the play, Macbeth desires great power.
After he is made Thane of Cawdor after his ‘heroic loyalty to the king and his country’, he realizes that the predictions made by the witches were right, “All ail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane Of Glamis! / All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane Of Cawdor! / All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter! ” He immediately begins to consider the other part of their prophecy and what is meant by it. “My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical…” Macbeth also contemplates the predictions made about Banquo, “Lesser than Macbeth, and greater. / Not so happy, yet much happier. / Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none. ” and immediately, his attitude towards his best friend changes as he has become somewhat of a threat to him. This change of attitude shows the effects of the equivocate predictions which are made.
Equivocation in MacBeth “There’s a mighty big difference between good, sound reasons, and reasons that sound good. ” This quote by columnist, Burton Hillis, describes the conflict many face when expecting straightforwardness. Logical fallacies, with their double meaning and ambiguity, cause confusion and, in the case of William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, utter demise. In the play Macbeth visits with three witches after experiencing fortune from their previous premonition.
They, the weird sisters, offer him more prophecies that are, in fact, fallacies that he believes to be true. The equivocation of the witches enhances the play by including dramatic irony and securing the inevitable doom of Macbeth without his knowledge. Macbeth: The Theme of Equivocation According to the Oxford Dictionary equivocation is “a way of behaving or speaking that is not clear or definite and is intended to avoid or hide the truth”. In other words saying parts of the truth and leaving out others. In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth the theme of equivocation is portrayed through the witches, the characters, and the apparitions.
In the play Macbeth, the witches introduce early on the theme of equivocation through their prophecies. This is illustrated when the witches say: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair, /Hover through the fog and filthy air” (1. 1. 12-13). This also connects to the reversal theme that good is evil and evil is good. All is not as it may appear to be. Also the witches use equivocation to perform their evil deeds: “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis. /All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor. / All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter” (1. . 46-48).
Soon after his prophecy Macbeth hears news of his new title (Thane of Cawdor). This assures him that the witch were true in their words. He then begins about the prophecy of becoming king, which then led to thoughts of murder. Thus, the witches use that act of equivocation to their advantage. Different characters in Macbeth use equivocation and most often it is one that has a double meaning.
One in particular is when Lady Macbeth states: “In every point twice done and then done double, Were poor and single business to contend Against those honors deep and broad wherewith Your majesty loads our house. For those of old, And the late dignities heap’d up to them, We rest your hermits”. (1. 6. 16-21) Lady Macbeth expresses her happiness towards Duncan.
Initially one would think that she happy because she is honored to be in the presence of the king. It is soon realized that the true cause of her joy is what she and her husband have planned for Duncan (his murder). Equivocation and Paradox in Macbeth by William Shakespeare Macbeth is a play of ambiguity, equivocation, and a shifting with regards to hat words mean: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”. Throughout the play we are in the shifting world of relativism.
The play opens with the three witches accompanied with “Thunder and Lightning”. They open the play by speaking in riddles and a promise to “meet with Macbeth”. Macbeth is introduced to the audience in Scene 3. The first words that he utters in the play are significant: “So foul and fair a day I have not seen” echoing the Witches’ chant in Scene 1 and giving the audience the impression that the witches already have a grip on Macbeth’s mind.
During the first meeting with the witches Macbeth is greeted as Thane of Glamis, which he is, and then reach into what seems like an impossible future when they greet him successively as Thane of Cawdor and then king. On Banquo’s request for more information the witches indulge in ambiguity and equivocation by addressing Banquo “lesser than Macbeth, and greater … Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none”. Banquo seems to doubt not only their words but their very existence. Banquo tends from the beginning to dismiss the veracity of the witches’ statements but Macbeth seems to take the vision of their statements very seriously.
The witches hit Macbeth where he is most vulnerable because they feed his ambition. Macbeth’s thoughts are drawn from Glamis to Cawdor and to the prophecy that he will become king hereafter. Turning to Banquo he asks “Do you not hope your children shall be kings? ” However, Banquo is not so willing to place his trust in the agents of wickedness: The instruments of darkness tell us truths; Win us with honest trifles, to betray us In deepest consequences. The paradoxes of the witches’ prophecies and of this curse are soon reflected in nature after the king’s murder.
Nature is so disgusted with this regicide that the disasters in nature match the horrors on earth. The basic distinction of day and night, light and darkness are confused. Nature is taken over by reversals: an owl killed a hawk and it is said that Duncan’s horses ate each other. During Macbeth’s second meeting with the witches, they feed him on ambiguities. The Witches conjure three apparitions. The first apparition is “an armed Head” that warns him to “beware Macduff”. The second apparition is “a bloody Child”, who seems to contradict the warning of the first.
Macbeth has no need to fear “for none of woman born/Shall harm Macbeth”. The third apparition is that a child carrying a tree in his hand and the threat of blood is replaced by the triumph of the crown. Macbeth feels reassured who finds hope in the words that he can never be vanquished until Birnam Wood moves towards his castle at Dunsinane. But he soon discovers that he was duped by the witches’ paradoxes when the English army advances to Macbeth’s castle by camouflaging themselves with branches cut from Birnam Wood.
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I pull in resolution and begin To doubt th’ equivocation of the fiend That lies like truth. In spite of the fact that Macbeth was fooled in the matter of Birnam Wood, Macbeth still clings to the claim that no man of a woman born shall harm him. Meeting Macduff he soon learns that his “charmed life” is another lie since Macduff was born by Caesarean section and “Macduff was from his mother’s womb/Untimely ripped”. The revelation destroys Macbeth’s confidence and he is forced to recognise that he has been duped and mocked by the witches’ prophecies. Equivocation is an important motif in Macbeth.
Author: Cari Minns
Equivocation in Macbeth
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