Ambiguity and Equivocation in Macbeth

  • Length: 1195 words (3.4 double-spaced pages)
  • Rating: Excellent
Open Document

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Text Preview

More ↓

Continue reading...

Open Document



Ambiguity and Equivocation in Macbeth

 

 

        Macbeth's voluntary misinterpretation of the ambiguity and

equivocation of the witches relates to the play's theme, which states that

uncontrolled desire for power often leads to irregular or violent actions,

resulting in death  and or destruction. 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. To that end, he twists the witches' words to fit his own

purposes, ignoring the possibility that the prophecies might have other,

less fortunate meanings. This voluntary misinterpretation, committed in

pursuit of power, leads Macbeth to perform certain actions which result in

the death of the king, Macbeth's friends, and eventually his own death.

 

        From the beginning of the play, Macbeth desires great power. Lady

Macbeth's statement to Macbeth that "When you durst do it, then you were a

man;" (I.vii.55) suggests that she and Macbeth have contemplated and

possibly committed murder for the sake of advancement before. Macbeth

provides further support for this in his reaction to the witches' prophecy

that he will be king. After Macbeth is made Thane of Cawdor, he realizes

that the witches were right, and immediately begins to ponder the other

part of their prophecy. "My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,"

(I.iii.153) he thinks, bringing murder to the front of his mind almost as

soon as the witches are proven right. Later in the play, Macbeth's desire

for power, encouraged by the witches, leads him to kill the king and assume

the throne.

 

        Macbeth and his wife use ambiguity and equivocation themselves in

pursuit of power.

 

        All our service / 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. (I.vi.17-21)

 

With this announcement, Lady Macbeth states that if all she could do in his

service had been done four times over, it still would not do honor to the

king. The ambiguous nature of this statement is that it is true even though

she has not done everything she could. It is true, and so she gains the

king's trust and goodwill through ambiguous honesty even though she plans

to help Macbeth murder him.  Macbeth issues a similar statement in the

king's presence; he tells him "I'll be myself the harbinger, and make

joyful the hearing of my wife with your approach;" his statement, like Lady

Macbeth's, is technically true, but bears murderous intent. He will tell

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Ambiguity and Equivocation in Macbeth." 123HelpMe.com. 22 Jun 2018
    <https://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=17241>.
Title Length Color Rating  
Essay on Ambiguity in Shakespeare's Macbeth - Ambiguity in Macbeth      The reader is not totally at ease in William Shakespeare's tragic drama Macbeth. The play contains numerous instances which lack clear import or meaning. Let's examine these in this paper.   In his book, On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy, H. S. Wilson comments on the ambiguities surrounding the Weird Sisters:   Scholars have been much exercised to determine the status of the Weird Sisters; but again theirs seems to be a case like that of the Ghost of Hamlet's father: the ambiguities concerning these creatures are deliberate and meant to enhance our sense of their mystery without determining just what they are....   [tags: Free Macbeth Essays]
:: 8 Works Cited
2617 words
(7.5 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Essay on Certain Ambiguity in Shakespeare's Ambiguous Macbeth - Certain Ambiguity in Macbeth       The Bard of Avon does not make all meanings explicit in his tragedy Macbeth. Of course, much of the ambiguity is intentional. In this essay we shall explore the instances of ambiguity in the play.   In Everybody's Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack comments on the purposeful obscurity in which Shakespeare keeps the three Witches:   The obscurity with which Shakespeare envelops their nature and powers is very probably deliberate, since he seems to intend them to body forth, in a physical presence on stage, precisely the mystery, the ambiguity, the question mark (psychological as well as metaphysical) that lies at the roo...   [tags: Macbeth essays]
:: 7 Works Cited
2623 words
(7.5 pages)
Powerful Essays [preview]
Essay on Ambiguity in Shakespeare's Macbeth - Macbeth's Ambiguity     William Shakespeare's tragic drama Macbeth is not totally clear in all of its statements. This paper seeks to comment on the ambiguity within the play.   In "Macbeth as the Imitation of an Action" Francis Fergusson explains the irrational nature of the actions of Macbeth and his wife - a cause of ambiguity:    I do not need to remind you of the great scenes preceding the murder, in which Macbeth and his Lady pull themselves together for their desperate effort. If you think over these scenes, you will notice that the Macbeths understand the action which begins here as a competition and a stunt, against reason and against nature....   [tags: Free Essay Writer]
:: 8 Works Cited
2611 words
(7.5 pages)
Research Papers [preview]
Essay on Ambiguous Situations in Shakespeare's Macbeth - Macbeth's Ambiguous Situations      The audience finds in William Shakespeare's tragic drama Macbetha number of developments and words and situations which are equivocal, unclear, unintelligible. This essay will explore and analyze these parts of the play.   L.C. Knights in the essay "Macbeth" mentions equivocation, unreality and other possible causes of ambiguity within the play:   The equivocal nature of temptation, the commerce with phantoms consequent upon false choice, the resulting sense of unreality ("nothing is, but what is not"), which has yet such power to "smother" vital function, the unnaturalness of evil ("against the use of nature"), and the relation between disintegra...   [tags: Macbeth essays]
:: 8 Works Cited
2619 words
(7.5 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Confusion in Macbeth Essay - Confusion in Macbeth       The instances words and actions needing clarification in Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth are numerous. Let us in this essay look at some of the more serious instances lacking clear meaning in the play.   Lily B. Campbell in her volume of criticism, Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes: Slaves of Passion, confesses that critics are at a loss in trying to explain the reference to "Bellona's bridegroom":   Macbeth is, indeed, "Bellona's bridegroom", though critics seem rather at a loss to know just who Bellona's bridegroom may have been....   [tags: Macbeth essays]
:: 7 Works Cited
1924 words
(5.5 pages)
Powerful Essays [preview]
Equivocation and Double Meanings in Macbeth Essay - 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....   [tags: GCSE Coursework Macbeth Essays] 861 words
(2.5 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]
Essay on Shakespeare's Macbeth - Equivocation and Free Choice - Macbeth:  Equivocation and Free Choice          In The Tragedy of Macbeth, Shakespeare's witches give voice to Macbeth's destiny. However, the unfolding action demonstrates not the inevitability of fate, but Macbeth's own role in what takes place. Through the use of opposing images, Shakespeare develops the conflict between fate and man's choice. The continual conflict prepares the reader for the effects this has on the mind and destiny of man.             The blending of right and wrong, good and evil, and a general equivocal position begins with the ominous appearance of the witches in Act I, Scene 1 of the play....   [tags: GCSE English Literature Coursework]
:: 4 Works Cited
1394 words
(4 pages)
Powerful Essays [preview]
Essay about Lady Macbeth and the Jacobean Society - Lady Macbeth’s atypical and complex character directly challenged the archetypal principles and beliefs of the Jacobean era which as a result, drew major fascination through the ages. Lady Macbeth was Shakespeare’s device to not only stimulate audience’s emotions, but to also provide historical context and elicit dominant themes which reflected Jacobean society. Her ambiguous character and remarkable influences in the play raised a lot of controversy and fascination amongst both modern and Jacobean audiences....   [tags: ambitions, ambiguity, manipulation] 831 words
(2.4 pages)
Better Essays [preview]
The Significance of Moral Ambiguity in Shakespeare's, Tragedy of MacBeth - The Significance of Moral Ambiguity in William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Macbeth The Tragedy of Macbeth is a fictional play written by English poet William Shakespeare. The play is set in eleventh century Scotland, during the reign of King James the first. Shakespeare evidently writes in this time period to describe the link between leaders and their supreme or ultimate power. The play was first performed in the year 1606, at the world famous Globe Theatre, and is considered one of the most profound and compelling tragedies ever told....   [tags: murder, death, prediction]
:: 1 Works Cited
831 words
(2.4 pages)
Better Essays [preview]
Macbeth's Atmosphere Essay - Macbeth's Atmosphere      There are many questions concerning the atmosphere in William Shakespeare's Macbeth that this essay will answer: Is it realistic or unrealistic. Are there two atmospheres - one of purity and one of black magic. And many other questions.   Roger Warren comments in Shakespeare Survey 30 , regarding Trervor Nunn's direction of Macbeth at Stratford-upon-Avon in 1974-75, on opposing imagery used to support the opposing atmospheres of purity and black magic:   Much of the approach and detail was carried over, particularly the clash between religious purity and black magic....   [tags: Macbeth essays]
:: 9 Works Cited
3351 words
(9.6 pages)
Strong Essays [preview]

Related Searches





his wife, and she will be happy, but only because then she will be able to

goad Macbeth into murdering the king. These irregular actions prove the

theme correct; Macbeth and Lady Macbeth use ambiguity to trick the king

into thinking he is safe. They abuse his trust and kill him in his sleep,

and their actions therefore lead to violence and destruction.

 

        At this point, Macbeth's object is to remain on the throne and

retain his newfound power by any means necessary. Remembering the words of

the witches, "Thou [Banquo] shall get kings, though thou be none,"

(I.iii.72) Macbeth decides to murder Banquo and his son Fleance. Here the

first hint of the witches' ambiguity is seen; the hags told Banquo that he

would be "Lesser than Macbeth, and greater. Not so happy, yet much

happier." Macbeth takes this to mean that Banquo will somehow usurp the

power that Macbeth himself has usurped, and so he kills him. The audience,

however, knows the true meaning of the prophecy: Banquo will never be king,

and so he is less than Macbeth, but he remains loyal to his king and

commits no murder, and is therefor greater than Macbeth in the eyes of

heaven. Further, Banquo is filled with doubt about whether his friend has

murdered the king, and he is murdered himself; he is not as happy as

Macbeth is when Macbeth assumes the crown. However, he is assured a place

in heaven and his family will be kings of Scotland, so he is much happier

than Macbeth, who will be despised and deposed, and who will probably end

up in hell.

 

        Believing that he has disposed of the current threat to the throne,

Macbeth visits the witches in an attempt to ascertain who else he should

kill in order to retain his power. By this time, Macbeth has no qualms

about murder, and his better nature has been suppressed in the pursuit of

power. Much of this is due to his voluntary misinterpretation of the

witches' prophecies. At this point the prophecies of the witches and the

apparitions which appear to Macbeth become warnings to him, but he chooses

to hear them as promises of his own immortality. He voluntarily decides to

ignore the possibility that the prophecies contain other meanings.

 

        Three apparitions appear to Macbeth, telling him to beware MacDuff,

that he will not die until Birnham Wood comes to Dunsinane, and that no man

of woman born shall ever kill him. Macbeth translates these prophecies as

meaning that he will reign as king until the day he dies of natural causes.

This can be seen in his actions; he kills MacDuff's family but leaves the

man himself alive, he enters into battles screaming that no man of woman

born shall ever harm him, and eventually his foolhardy actions lead to his

death at the hands of MacDuff. It is the equivocation of the ghosts that

lead him to this course of actions; the ghosts deliberately equivocate in

their messages to him. "Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great

Birnham Wood to High Dunsinane Hill shall come against him," (IV.i.104-106)

speaks one. In his apathetic, power-hungry state, Macbeth chooses to hear

only the surface message and not the deeper warning. Nevertheless, the

ghost made it very easy for him to do this.  It used equivocation to hide

the truth. Macbeth, unable to controll his desire to keep his power,

interpreted those words in a way that would ensure his own victory, and his

resulting actions led to the death of his allies when Malcolm marched on

Dunsinane. Similarly, the ghost which told him that "none of woman born

shall harm Macbeth" (IV.i.90) ensured his death at MacDuff's hands.

 

        Ambiguity and equivocation are key to the fall of Macbeth. He

begins as a heroic character, and his one flaw is his desire for power. Yet

without the machinations of the witches and the apparitions, Macbeth would

have had no chance to misinterpret warnings and prophecies. Without the

hint that he could somehow effect his own placement on the throne,

Macbeth's mind would not have turned to murder at the point where he was

given the Thaneship of Cawdor. So these two elements, driven by Macbeth's

uncontrolled desire for power led  to actions which were violent and

destructive, and which eventually led to death. The placement of ambiguity

and equivocation in the play exploit Macbeth's flaw, and are necessary to

the plot of the tragedy.

 

 

 

 


Return to 123HelpMe.com