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What does "False face must hide what the false heart doth know" mean?

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arma | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 12, 2007 at 1:59 AM via web

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What does "False face must hide what the false heart doth know" mean?

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Julie Feng | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted January 30, 2014 at 6:33 PM (Answer #5)

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"False face must hide what the false heart doth know" is the very last line of the very first act in Macbeth. 

It is uttered by Macbeth, who has finally been convinced by Lady Macbeth to engage in a plot to murder to Scottish King, Duncan, in order for Macbeth to eventually become the ruler of Scotland. In the scene, Duncan and everyone else are enjoying a welcome feast at Macbeth's castle, where they are visiting. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth steal away for a moment to talk. When Macbeth had first heard the three witches / weird sisters' prophecy that he would become Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland, he immediately felt greedy for those positions. His ambitious feeling began to well up over his good sense. However, his moral code fought against it and he tried to convince himself that evil deeds would not be worth it. He attempted to battle his evil ambitions. When he goes home to his wife, though, her resolve is absolutely steelier than his. She is 100 percent sure that murdering Duncan is the quickest and best path to making her husband King and herself the queen. She manipulates, insults, and coerces him into eventually agreeing with her. She uses their sexual passion and his fear of being "unmanly" and cowardly to make him agree to kill Duncan. 

When King Duncan arrives at Macbeth's castle for a visit, he is jolly and optimistic as usual. He doesn't know that his seemingly gracious hosts are plotting his death. In the last scene (scene 7) of the first act, Macbeth shows that he is finally convinced to commit an evil deed by saying this line. He agrees with Lady Macbeth that they must outwardly hide (false face must hide) their secret evil plans (which are from their false heart). Although they know what they plan to do, the success of the plan relies on them acting like they are in grief and anger when Duncan is discovered to be murdered.

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cmcqueeney | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted November 12, 2007 at 2:08 AM (Answer #1)

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Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have just gone over the plan to kill Duncan. Now, they have to go about business as usual without letting anyone know about their plan.  The quote means that Macbeth will put on a 'false face' or pretend to look happy and normal to cover for his 'false heart' or heart that is betraying his king. 

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amy-lepore | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted November 12, 2007 at 5:41 AM (Answer #2)

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This quote falls nicely into the "appearance vs reality" theme where Macbeth knows what he will do to further his ambition and become King, but he can not show this to the world or he will be called on it. 

"False face must hide"--put on an act and pretend to be something you are not (a mask of sorts)

"what a false heart doth know"--his heart knows the truth of who he is and what he is planning

 

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johannsebastianfu | Middle School Teacher | eNotes Newbie

Posted November 24, 2008 at 2:58 AM (Answer #3)

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Away, and mock the time with fairest show.

False face must hide what the false heart doth know.

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forever018 | Student, Undergraduate | eNoter

Posted April 30, 2009 at 10:44 PM (Answer #4)

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We know from the play that Macbeth has an easily read face, so he must cover up his guilt with a happy face (false face), and pretend like everything is alright(false heart).

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