Appearance vs Reality in Macbeth

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"Fair is foul and foul is fair," chant the witches in the opening scene of Macbeth. With this apparent contradiction a seed is sown for the examination of what is indeed a major theme of the play. False appearance and apparition recur regularly throughout the story. The audience and even the characters themselves are often unsure of the distinction between what appears to be real and what actually is. Shakespeare makes a great statement through the play of how easily one can deceive and be deceived. It is full of rumours and fears, vague knowledge, uncertainties, riddles and half-truths.

The aforementioned witches are the embodiment of evil and equivocation. They clearly have the power to make good look evil and make evil look good. They play a huge role in Macbeth’s fate by introducing doubt and malignant ambition into his mind. Their mixing of appearance and reality is crucial to the development of the plot. Macbeth, a character previously valiant, falls into the trap of interpreting what the witches say. To Banquo they say: “Thou shalt get kings though thou be non.” He is clear in his understanding that what the witches are saying has little to do with reality: “The instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles to betray in deepest consequence.”

However, Macbeth is led by this appearance of royalty that the witches got into his head, ultimately leading to a tragic fate for Scotland and his downfall. He develops a strong connection with the witches. There comes a stage when he is dependent on the witches and confused what is reality and what is merely appearance: “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” It is wishful thinking at best, but to Macbeth it is an absolute truth. He believes he will ever be vanquished unless an impossible natural occurrence (“Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come”) takes place… and most ironically it does! Even from looking at the witches we know that there is a mix up here of appearance and...
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