What is the role of apparitions in Macbeth?
Throughout the play, Macbeth sees various apparitions, each at an important point in his story. The apparitions can be perceived as a visual manifestation of his declining mentality. When Macbeth feels most guilty and remorseful of his actions, he hallucinates, and these visions symbolize his compunction.
When he was on his way to murder the king, his “heat oppressed brain” makes him see a bloody dagger that led him to the king’s chambers – Even though he had not murdered Duncan yet, his conscience already plagued by the guilt and remorse that came with killing the king. He also saw the ghost of Banquo immediately after murdering him, showing us how he was being tormented by his own horrific acts.
Apparitions also foreshadow several key points; When the witches say “Foul is fair, and fair is foul” it foretells the upending of the natural order that occurs as a result of Macbeth’s actions. The three apparitions that the witches show Macbeth can be taken as another example of foreshadowed plot points.
The witches themselves who “into the air they vanished” seem like apparitions and highlight the important role that the supernatural play in the downfall of Macbeth.
How do they impact the course of the play?
The apparitions that the witches show Macbeth are ambiguous, paradoxical, and misleading. Oftentimes, they have Macbeth’s innate honour battling his “vaulting ambition.” The apparitions play into his fatal flaw – his hubris – and only serve to further thrust him into fulfilling the prophecies himself.
Even when he sees the bloody dagger – that we, as the readers, know is a materialization of his guilt and remorse – he takes it as a sign that he must murder the king – “thou marshall’st the way that I was going.”
Throughout the course of the play, the apparitions serve as fuel to the growing fire that is Macbeth’s ambition, ultimately leading to his inevitable doom.
Why can Macbeth be seen as the hero of the play?
Macbeth, the titular character of the play, is a character with many admirable qualities – In Act 1 scene 2, he is described as “valiant”, “brave” and “worthy”; Lady Macbeth describes him as “full of the milk of human kindness.”
As the Thane of Glamis, he has power and holds influence over others – he is even considered to be Duncan’s kinsman. He has all the characteristics of a hero and at the beginning of the play he is viewed as such by the people. However, Macbeth also has a fatal flaw – his “vaulting ambition”, his hubris – that leads to his inevitable death.
Throughout the cause of the play, we see Macbeth’s innate goodness wrestle his fatal flaw and his inner turmoil reveals several essential truths about humanity; humans, by nature, are very prideful people and as such that, tend to want what isn’t good for them and ignore what is good about what they already have.
His greatness of character is tragically wasted through circumstance as he turns from beloved nobleman to merciless tyrant. Even so, in the moments leading to his death, Macbeth’s more valiant side makes one last appearance showing us that he found some degree of release and resignation while facing death.
Why are the witches usually known as the villains of the story?
The three witches are genuinely evil and occult. They represent the impact that the supernatural had on Macbeth’s path to doom and every prophecy they conjure up is paradoxical – their chant is “Double, double, toil and trouble” and they certainly deliver on that.
Before they meet Macbeth, they talk amongst themselves about the trouble they wreaked – one had been killing swine, and another cursed the husband of the woman who would not give her chestnuts. This further reinforces the idea that the witches are paranormal in nature and implies that even though they promised greatness for Macbeth, they are only going to cause him trouble.
Their prophecies propel Macbeth in his bloody journey -“I am steeped in blood so far [that] to go back were as tedious as to go o’er”- whereas the hidden truths, when finally revealed, show that Macbeth was but a puppet of malign forces.
The equivocating way in which the witches speak deluded Macbeth into committing many horrendous crimes, tricking him into ignoring all his good characteristics in favour of turning into an unfeeling, tyrannical fiend.
The witches signify the beginning of the hero, Macbeth’s fall; He has lost his soul, and all for nothing.
In what ways can Banquo be seen as wise?
By saying “And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence” he accurately guesses the witches’ plans.
He is skeptical and does not hesitate regarding the prophecy like Macbeth – who was greedy for his ambitions and who subsequently got caught up in the witches’ prophecies – did; He neither trusts the prophecies nor the witches showing that he has a stronger will and a greater sense of content in his life.
Banquo also notices Macbeth’s inner turmoil and his reaction to the news when he says “Like our strange garments – cleave not to their mould but with the aid of use”- Banquo is portrayed as a perceptive and observant character.
How does Lady Macbeth act without compunction? When and why does this change?
When Lady Macbeth learns of the prophecy, she asks the spirits who “tend on mortal thoughts” to help her with her ambitions and make Macbeth king so that she may be queen.
Unlike Macbeth – who Lady Macbeth states is “too full of the milk of human kindness” – she knows that she will need to take matters into her own hands if she wanted the prophecies to come true. Lady Macbeth calls on spirits to “unsex here” and “take [her] milk for gall”. She asks them to “Stop up the access and passage to remorse.”
Not only does she renounce her womanhood, she asks them to turn her into an unfeeling fiend. When Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plan Duncan’s murder, she seems to not be affected at all; it makes her look like a heartless instigator of the murder.
Her nonchalant attitude is obvious when she comes back from hiding the daggers and says that her hands were “of [Macbeth’s] color” but she “shames to wear a heart so white.”
However, as the story progresses further, Lady Macbeth changes from an unfeeling fiend to a guilt-driven lunatic. Even though she had little to no qualms about murdering the king, after the murder is committed, she does not seem to be able to come to terms with it – “who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”
She visualizes a spot of blood on her hands and perpetually tries to wash it off – “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” The stigma of guilt, however, cannot be removed and has Lady Macbeth sleepwalking throughout the castle, the lamp she carries being her only source of light as she wonders further down her imminent path of doom.
How does Macbeth’s hesitation or uneasiness to kill or assassinate alter in the play? What impact does this have on Lady Macbeth?
Before he kills Duncan, Macbeth is ambitious to become king, but he shows hesitation to act. He knows that murdering the king has many consequences and that the only reason he has to actually murder the king is his “vaulting ambition.” He is more passive than Lady Macbeth, who has to convince him to usurp the throne.
Even after being convinced, his mind is plagued with guilt and hesitance and his “heat oppressed brain” hallucinates a bloody dagger as a visual manifestation of his compunction. Stepping up for her husband, Lady Macbeth challenges traditional heteronormative views and renounces her femininity.
She exhibits a nonchalant attitude regarding the murder and shames her husband, calling into question his masculinity and his love for her – “My hands are of your colour but I shame to wear a heart so white!” Following the murder of Duncan, Macbeth becomes increasingly unstable.
His guilt about killing a friend and paranoia about maintaining the throne lead him to madness, which also makes him ruthless and bloodthirsty.
He changes from a “brave”, “valiant” kinsman “full of the milk of human kindness” into a child-murdering tyrant; He says that he is “in blood” and has “step’t in so far ” that it is too late to “go o’er” alluding that Macbeth is far beyond the point of no return.
Why does Shakespeare use dichotomy in the play Macbeth?
In the first act of Macbeth, Banquo and Macbeth encounter three witches – the primary cause for the great disturbances in the play by revealing the future, and causing many characters to use power that isn’t welcome in natural life to get what they want – on their return to the castle after defeating the rebels, who prophesied both Macbeth and Banquo’s future greatness.
The witches speak in rhyming, paradoxical couplets such as “fair is foul and foul is fair” implying that there will be great disparity between appearance and reality, as shown when Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plot Duncan’s death. The dichotomy of natural and unnatural is represented through the causes and events of death throughout the play.
Death and violence play a big part in the play; Many lives are ended early or unnaturally. After Duncan’s murder, Macbeth and his wife go insane partly from guilt and partly because they cannot trust anyone with their life anymore.
Shakespeare also uses the dichotomy of light and darkness; Darkness signifies something bad is about to happen and in contrast, light symbolizes life and a strong connection to God – and by extension the king, who was considered to be God’s representative. By calling for the cover of dark
- “Stars, hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires” – Macbeth suggest that his cruel designs go against life and God. “Almost at odds with morning, which is which” suggests that the dark night – which represents natural actions – continues to seep into the day. When Macbeth and Lady Macbeth plan their heinous acts, they either try to hide from nature and call on darkness – “Come, thick night, and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell” – or use nature as a cover for their unnatural acts – “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it.” The natural-supernatural, light-darkness and appearance-reality dichotomy are imagery that Shakespeare uses as an indicator of the key theme in his work, goodness versus evil to set the moral atmosphere as well as the mood of the play.
How and why do the characters equivocate in the play?
The witches can be taken as the prime example of equivocators in Macbeth.
With the first set of predictions, the witches lure him with small truths: calling him by his present title, Glamis, his upcoming “promotion” with an added title of “thane of Cawdor,” and finally as the man who will be king – they fail to mention that to become king, Macbeth would have to murder Duncan.
The second set of predictions are no better: they tell Macbeth that “none of woman born” can harm Macbeth – failing to mention that cesarean section can be seen as an exception to this – and that Macbeth would not be vanquished until “Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill.”
The witches equivocate to delude Macbeth into a false sense of security because, in the end, the witches are no more than occult beings that find delight in wreaking havoc. However, the witches are not the only characters in Macbeth to equivocate in the story; Macbeth does his fair bit of equivocation too.
Macbeth lies when he says he killed Duncan’s guards because he was so upset over Duncan’s murder at their hands – “O, yet I do repent me of my fury, that I did kill them” – when he, in fact, murdered them so that no doubts are raised.
When Banquo is shown to also be struggling with ambition he opens up to his struggles and the troubling dreams the witches have inspired in him.
However, Macbeth who has already decided to act on his ambitions just says that he “think[s] not of them.” In Macbeth’s case, he equivocates to cover up for his crimes as he digs himself deeper into a metaphorical hole that he himself knows he cannot climb out of.
How is equivocating used to the advantage of the “instruments of darkness”?
The use of equivocation illustrates the witches’ evil nature; Their prophecies are a form of deception and Macbeth is heavily deceived. Banquo sees through their “honest trifles” and knows that the witches will “betray [them] in deepest consequence.”
However, Macbeth becomes the target of the alluring words the witches spout and ends up killing the king, acting no better than a puppet under the witches’ control.
The witches’ use of equivocation to convey multiple meanings or to leave the dialogue vague and ambiguous highlight the fact that the supernatural is associated with evil – which is the message Shakespeare was trying to convey.
By equivocating, the witches manage to wreak havoc across all of Scotland, Macbeth’s actions not only disrupting the social hierarchy but the Great Chain of Being as well.
How do these literary devices play on Macbeth’s fatal flaw and encourage his downfall?
Macbeth’s fatal flaw is his megalomania, his “vaulting ambition” – The witches know this and use this to their advantage. They lure Macbeth in with promises of power; they tell Macbeth that he will be Thane of Cawdor – which is fulfilled as soon as the witches disappear – and that he will be King of Scotland.
However, their words were ambiguous and did not tell Macbeth the full scope of what would happen – they did not tell him that he would have to murder Duncan.
Their half-truths triggered a violent chain of murders so that Macbeth may satisfy his power lust to be king. The witches’ equivocations also play on Macbeth’s insecurities in his infertility and his failure to have children; they play on his pride, his hubris as a man, when they mock him by showing Banquo’s generations of descendants.
The witches’ second set of apparitions are also extremely vague, and Macbeth interprets them in a way that gives him a false sense of security in his own power which ultimately leads to his downfall.
How is darkness associated with conniving?
In medieval times, it was believed that the health of a country was directly related to the health of its king. If there was political order, then there would be natural order.
Macbeth shows this connection between the political and natural world: it is Macbeth’s disruption of the social and political order by murdering Duncan and usurping the throne that causes nature to go haywire.
Where Duncan and Malcolm use nature metaphors, comparing themselves to gardeners who want to help the realm grow – showing that, as king, they are inadvertently part of the Great Chain of Being and play a significant role in maintaining its harmony – Macbeth and Lady Macbeth either try to hide from nature and call on darkness – “Come, thick night, and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell” – or use nature as a cover for their unnatural acts – “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under it.”
When Macbeth goes to murder Duncan, the world is represented as being in two halves – that is, light and dark – by the presence of night and day. The “moon has set” and “there’s husbandry in heaven; their candles are all out”. “Now o’er the one half-world nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse the curtained sleep.”
Darkness signifies something bad is about to happen; In contrast, light symbolizes life and a strong connection to God – and by extension the king, who was considered to be God’s representative.
Macbeth calls for the cover of dark – “Stars, hide your fires, let not light see my black and deep desires” suggesting that his heinous acts go against life and God.
How does blood imagery directly link to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s demise?
Throughout the play, blood is used to symbolize Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s thoughts regarding murder.
At the times when both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth feel most guilty, they despair that they will never be able to wash the blood—their guilt—from their hands. Death and killing happen in an instant but blood remains, and stains.
When Macbeth goes to murder Duncan, his “heat-oppressed brain” makes him hallucinate a bloody dagger; this shows us that even though the deed had not been committed yet, Macbeth had already been plagued by the guilt and remorse that came with murdering the king.
Even Lady Macbeth feels guilty about her part in the murder of Duncan – “who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?”
She visualizes a spot of blood on her hands and perpetually tries to wash it off – “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” Eventually her own guilt – which was symbolized by the blood.
This pushes her to commit suicide. Towards the end of the play, as Macbeth murders more innocent people, blood symbolizes Macbeth’s mental decline and his descent and metamorphosis from a “brave”, “valiant” kinsman “full of the milk of human kindness” to a child-murdering tyrant.
He says that he is “in blood” and has “step’t in so far” that it is too late to “go o’er” alluding that Macbeth is far beyond the point of no return.
The play of Macbeth starts from a bloody battle where Macbeth “unseams” Macdonwald’s head and ultimately closes with the climactic siege where Macbeth himself is beheaded by Macduff – Macbeth’s death is a reflection of Macdonwald’s and was foreshadowed from the beginning of the play itself by the use of blood imagery.
How does the disrupted banquet signify the moral dissolution of both Macbeth and Scotland?
Feasting together is a sign of friendship and community. It was Macbeth’s first banquet as king, and it was supposed to solidify his position as such in the eyes of the nobles.
However, instead of appearing as a noble, valiant king, Macbeth behaved no better than a lunatic; He “broke the good meeting” and “displaced the mirth” with “most admired disorder.”
In medieval times, the health of the king was directly linked to the wellbeing of the nation, and Macbeth had a “strange infirmity” – he was not healthy both physically and mentally and thus, not fit to be king. Because an unsuitable king is ruling, one that disrupted the social hierarchy to become king, nature has been thrown out of loop – “Stones have been known to move, and trees to speak.”
The Great chain of being has been over overthrown and people who took “twenty mortal murders in their crowns” do not stay dead. And Macbeth who has now accepted his crimes– “I am in blood stepped in so far, that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er” – and who knows that violence only breeds more violent acts – “ Blood will have blood” – resolves to murder anyone who may have a chance of getting in his way showing us how far he has descended from a man “full of the milk of human kindness.” Macbeth’s disrupted banquet signifies the moral dissolution of both himself and Scotland.
How has Shakespeare used sleep to demonstrate Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s compunction?
Sleep symbolizes innocence, purity, and peace of mind. When Macbeth murders Duncan, he hears a voice that says, “Macbeth does murder sleep” and in a sense he did – Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have been involved in murder and are therefore, no longer innocent and they lose their peace of mind as their conscience are consumed by their guilt and remorse.
They find themselves unable to fall asleep. Lady Macbeth sleepwalking throughout the castle, the lamp she carries being her only source of light as she wonders further down her imminent path of doom.
Macbeth laments over his inability to sleep and seems envious of Duncan who “after life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.” Here, sleeplessness comes to symbolize both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s guilt, and sleeping – a natural necessity in life that “knits up the raveled sleave of care” and is the “chief nourisher in life’s feast”- becomes nearly impossible, and the couple starts to regret ever wanting such power in the first place.
Sleep is the “balm of hurt minds” and “sore labour’s bath” and Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s inability to sleep implies that they do not deserve to smooth their worries, do not deserve to ease the aches of their days as they live in a perpetual sense of fear and trepidation.
How does Shakespeare use clothes to show how Macbeth’s morals have changed?
Clothes that are ill-fitting are strongly related to the wider theme of deceptive appearances. Macbeth wearing ill-fitting clothes is a metaphor that implies that there is a gap between his public persona and his inner thoughts and feelings.
The robes of kingship hinder Macbeth; they symbolize his unsuitability for the role he has assumed since he has taken over a role that rightly belongs to another.
The idea of “borrowed robes” is constantly present, first suggested by Macbeth himself when he is named Thane of Cawdor, indicating that Macbeth himself thinks that the title, “Thane of Cawdor” does not suit him.
By wearing ill-fitting clothes, Shakespeare shows us that – even though he may have promised as such by the witches – the role of King is not suited for Macbeth; He goes from wearing his accustomed armour at the beginning of the play where his morals were sound to wearing ill-fitting clothes when he no longer followed his morals.
Macbeth’s impatience to get back into his accustomed armour at the end of the play is his desperate attempt to return to his natural station.
What is Macbeth’s fatal or tragic flaw?
Macbeth’s fatal flaw is his “vaulting ambition” that “o’erleaps itself and falls on the other.”
How does this lead to his downfall?
Macbeth’s fatal flaw is his megalomania, his “vaulting ambition.” The witches know this and use this to their advantage; They lure Macbeth in with ambiguous words spoken in paradoxical, rhyming couplets that promise power; they tell Macbeth that he will be Thane of Cawdor – which is fulfilled as soon as the witches disappear – and that he will be King of Scotland.
Their half-truths trigger violence after violence as Macbeth attempts to satisfy his power lust while also growing skeptical and wary of all his allies.
The witches also play on Macbeth’s insecurities in his infertility and his failure to have children; they play on his pride, his hubris as a man, when they mock him by showing Banquo’s generations of descendants.
His ambitious streak continues as he murders innocent people – going as far as to murder babies and children just for sharing blood connections to a rival.
His tyrannical role makes him lose many supporters and any who do support him do so out of fear, “in command, nothing love.” When Macbeth meets the witches for the second time, he receives and interprets three prophecies in a way that gives him a false sense of security, a sense of pride in the way the supernatural supposedly support his ambitions to be king.
His excessive ambition to be king and his pride in himself, his accomplishments and his power ultimately leads to his downfall.
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