Appearance versus reality
Niccolo Machiavelli is famous for saying: “For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are more often influenced by the things that ’seem’ than by those that ‘are.’Appearance vs. reality in Shakespeare is a jaded theme in Macbeth. As King Duncan himself says “there’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face,” the play is full of characters with duplicity as things aren’t always what they ‘seem’ (1/4/20).
The witches and their prophecies, throughout the play are not what they ‘seem.’ When Macbeth is returning with Banquo and they see the witches in their path, Banquo is confused as to whether they are real. He asks them, ‘are you fantastical or that indeed which outwardly ye show?’ (1/4/69). They look so ‘wither’d and so wild in their attire(1/4/55)’ that the puzzled Banquo mistakes them for no ‘inhabitants of the earth’ and when they disappear, he asks Macbeth if they had ‘taken the insane root that takes the reason prisoner?’ (1/4/57). When the three witches’ prophesize yet again, they let Macbeth know that he needs to ‘beware Macduff’ (4/1/80) and confirm his suspicions. They also let him know that ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth’ (4/1/88) which makes Macbeth extremely confident he is indestructible. The third prophecy, as the witches say states that ‘Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam woods to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him.’(4/1/102) By the end of prophesying, Macbeth is extremely certain and sits comfortably, knowing that nothing could harm him. Macbeth interprets the prophecy in his own way and doesn’t realize that it could mean something else than what it ‘appeared’ to mean. ...
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...ng. He can not go back to Scotland where Macbeth is planning his murder and neither can he bring Malcolm to Scotland since he himself said, he would make a horrible king. Satisfied, Malcolm finally tells him that he was just testing Macduff’s loyalty and he was content with it. Although, a doubt remains in Macduff’s mind and he says ‘such welcome and unwelcome things at once ‘Tis hard to reconcile.’ (4/3/153)Macduff is confused as to what is real yet again. He can not decide whether to trust Malcolm’s ‘appearance’ or not.
In the end, the rightful heir to the throne, Malcolm becomes the King of Scotland and everything returns to normal. What ‘appears’ real is real and there are no false ‘appearances’ from people anymore.
Shakespeare, William. Tragedy of Macbeth . Ed. Barbara Mowat and Paul Warstine. New York: Washington Press, 1992.
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