In Macbeth, Shakespeare uses the theme of equivocation to effectively illustrate the evil nature of the witches. Equivocation is the use of ambiguous expressions in order to mislead. The prophecies of the witches play a mischief in this play, as they are a form of deception that at times use vague language to dodge an issue. The three influential prophecies, which the witches make in this play, are that the protagonist Macbeth will become the king of Scotland, Banquo will be the father of the king of Scotland, and Macbeth will not be killed until the Birnam wood moves to Dunsinane hill. The sources of these prophecies are the witches who put together the devious words into Macbeth's mind, which demonstrates the evil nature of the witches.
In Macbeth, one of the earliest prophecies that the witches make is that Macbeth will become the king of Scotland. "All hail, Macbeth! that shalt be king hereafter!"(I.iii.50) is the prophecy in which no indication of the doom of Macbeth is present. The literal meaning of this apocalypse is that Macbeth will become the king of Scotland. Thus, his ambition to take the pursuit of breaking the natural order to become the king becomes ungovernable. This is evident when Macbeth is shown hallucinating of a dagger before he kills Duncan, the real king of Scotland. Macbeth says, "Is this a dagger, which I see before me, / The handle toward my hand? Come let me clutch thee"(II.i.33-34), which shows that he is in a great doubt on whether to assassinate Duncan or not. The metaphorical meaning of the revelation disclosed by the witches is that Macbeth will ultimately be ruined in the future after he reaches his ambition of becoming the king, as he will have to face the resistance of the loyal nobles of king Duncan including Banquo, Macduff, Malcom, etc. Macbeth is greatly affected by this prophecy and becomes the target of the mendacious and perplexing words spoken by the witches and kills the king. Hence, the witches are of evil nature because they indirectly ruin Macbeth's life.
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....