AP Literature and Composition
October 5, 2010
Equivocation in MacBeth
“There’s a mighty big difference between good, sound reasons, and reasons that sound good.” This quote by columnist, Burton Hillis, describes the conflict many face when expecting straightforwardness. Logical fallacies, with their double meaning and ambiguity, cause confusion and, in the case of William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, utter demise. In the play Macbeth visits with three witches after experiencing fortune from their previous premonition. They, the weird sisters, offer him more prophecies that are, in fact, fallacies that he believes to be true. The equivocation of the witches enhances the play by including dramatic irony and securing the inevitable doom of Macbeth without his knowledge.
When our doomed character and his noble friend Banquo (whose nobleness was ill-reciprocated, by the way) meet with the witches for the first time, the strange sisters do not hesitate to evade the whole truth as soon as they are provoked. The third witch recites, “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” (1.3.50). To any first reader, or listener like Macbeth, this seems to be a brilliant fortune, but the fallacy is that it is not truly explained how he will come to be king. Looking back, the irony is present because he will have to kill Duncan to conquer the crown, but he is too “…rapt withal…” (1.3.57) to know that yet.
As the play progresses, Macbeth becomes more and more corrupt. Although it is smartest to avoid the knowledge of the witches, he seeks to know his fate after his foes begin to rise against him. Once in their presence, he is shown a hallucination of a bloody child. “Be bloody bold and resolute,” it says, “laugh to scorn the pow’r of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth” (4.1.79-81). The sisters’ goal is to build up Macbeth’s confidence by stretching the truth; they succeed. He believes he can not be harmed, but we learn the irony...