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Equivocation and Double Meanings in Macbeth

analytical Essay
861 words
861 words
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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 this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how shakespeare uses equivocation not to confuse but to either get across multiple meanings or to leave dialogue and events in the play open ended.
  • Analyzes how macduff was thought a traitor half way through the play. being distrustful and disgruntled with macbeth, he runs to england to join malcolm.
  • Analyzes how the quote "fair is foul and foul is fair" is necessary for the development of certain characters in macbeth. it suggests that the audience shouldn't trust anyone because the characters may not be what they seem to be.
  • Analyzes how the witches twist and play with macbeth's mind and feelings. the quote "fair is foul and foul is fair" is an oxymoron.
  • Analyzes how macbeth's fair to foul story follows the "fair is foul and foul is fair" format.
  • Analyzes how lady macbeth is ambitious but lacks the brutality of character (the illness) to carry out evil deeds through. malcolm and his loyal followers were seen as traitors as they fled their fathers' murder.
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