Macbeth Theme

One of the most fascinating ways in which Shakespeare explores the theme of appearance and reality is through the characters of the witches. The witches bring with them confusion, which infects the natural order. Night becomes day. Duncan’s horses eat each other, Fair is foul, and foul is fair. This quote is fairly early in the text, and sets the tone for the rest of the play. It alludes to the deceptive nature of the play, referring to the idea that things are not always as they seem.

The quote itself foreshadows the apparent sinister and deceitful nature of the play, in that it brings forth the idea that things that seem fair, good and true may well in fact be evil or foul. Likewise, things that appear evil may possess elements of good in them. This quote is a key component of the play, as the play itself centres around the idea of deception and that what appears on the outside is not always a true reflection of what lies beneath,. the course of the play, they lead to greater confusion in Macbeth’s mind.

They seem to promise him good things, but his life subsequently begins to deteriorate. On the night of the murder, Macbeth sees a floating dagger, but can not decide if this “air-drawn dagger” is real or a figment of his imagination proceeding from his “heat-oppressed brain”. His confusion between what is real and what is not seems to increase as the witches’ influence over Macbeth grows. As Macbeth’s actions become more tyrannical and savage, the strain of hiding their (Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s) true nature surfaces. The pair quickly begins to lose their grip on reality.

Following Banquo’s murder, Macbeth sees his ghost at the feast. Macbeth has lost the ability to differentiate between appearance and reality. The cause behind Macbeth’s murder of Banquo was his inability to accept anything at face-value. Macbeth turns to the witches when he begins to become “cribb’d and confined”. These are the very “hags” behind Macbeth’s original confusion. They very quickly bring Macbeth into a state of mind where he becomes totally disconnected from reality. He takes the witches apparitions and predictions literally, believing that he is safe from any harm.

The prediction that Macbeth will be safe until “Birnam Wood reaches Dunsinane” appears to indicate that he will not be threatened any time in the near future. In reality, it is showing him his impending downfall. It is at this stage that the forces of good come together and travel to Scotland to overthrow Macbeth. As the tide turns on Macbeth, the king and queen become more disillusioned and reach the brink of insanity. Suffering from memories of the murder, Lady Macbeth is unable to make a distinction between reality and fantasy.

In her panicked state, she takes her own life. Meanwhile, Macbeth is forced to acknowledge that the witches “lie like truth”. They have equivocated. Macbeth is at this stage ready to see the world for what it is, not for what he wishes it to be. The play Macbeth is undoubtedly a very shocking and disturbing play. In the course of the play, the boundaries between reality and appearance are in a constant state of flux. As a result, very little is as it seems in the play. The characters are regularly concealing their true natures and their true ambitions and desires.

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