Motifs in Macbeth: Appearance vs. Reality

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There are many motifs in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but one of the most important is the recurring disassociation of appearance and reality. The entire motif is introduced in the first scene when the witches say “Fair is foul and foul is fair” (1,i,12). This is then reiterated as important when Macbeth says, “So foul and fair a day I have not seen.” (1,iii, 39). Drawing parallels and comparing two polar opposites, such as foul and fair, sets the stage for the dissimilarity between appearance and reality. This motif changes as the characters change, however, and it moves from the main characters not knowing what to believe or trust, to the main characters using the variance to their own advantage and hiding their true motives, to finally causing the main characters to go insane. Throughout the entirety of Macbeth, what the characters have seen and what the readers know to be true have often times been contrasting. This divergence between appearance and reality grows and develops with the characters throughout the play.

In the beginning of the play, Macbeth is naïve and content with his place in life. This creates an inability for Macbeth to see that appearances are not always the gateway to reality. In Act 1, Macbeth comes across the witches and is immediately aware of the fact that all is not as it should be. He mentions the foul and fair day and then notices the odd appearances of the beings in front of him. Macbeth refuses to admit that their exteriors might not represent who they are and he brings this up by saying “You should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so” (1, iii, 47-49). He refuses to see anything beyond what is right in front of him. He does acknowledge the disparity when he says that even though these women “look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ earth” (1,iii, 42) they are on it and so because he sees two differing ideas, he is allowing himself to understand that not everything is as it seems. This scene and Macbeth’s...
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