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The play begins with equivocation, "Fair is foul and foul is fair...." In other words, the play is filled with the idea of contradiction. aka equivocation. Nothing is what it appears to be.
For your essay, choose three examples of things that are not what they appear to be.
For example, it would appear that Macbeth is a good and loyal subject of the king. Explain how this is not so.
It would appear that Malcolm and Donalbain hired the guards to kill their father. Explain how this is not so.
It would appear that Fleance, too, was responsible for Banquo's death. Explain how this is not so.
It would appear that Macduff is a traitor. Explain how this is not so.
It would appear from what the witches tell Macbeth, that he cannot be defeated. Explain how this is not so.
In other words, there are many examples in the play. Choose three of them and then support what you say by using an example from the play.
It is interesting to note that the Porter speaks of an equivocator who committed treason. This is a reference to Father Garnet who confessed several members of the Gunpowder Plot before the attempt but said nothing. This was treason according to the courts despite the fact that he was bound by the confessional. The only recognized church in England was The Church of England. It was illegal to be a Roman Catholic. As a result of his defense of the confessional, he was known as the Great Equivocator.
Remember, "Nothing is but what is not."
Equivocation is language of confusion; ambiguity; double meanings; half-truths; paradoxes; riddles
The editor above does an excellent job illustrating the most famous: "Foul is fair; fair is foil." These lines turn the world of Macbeth inside out: good is evil, and evil is good. The murderous become king, and the king gets murdered. The natural becomes unnatural. The witches have established a world with no moral center in which things fall apart.
Equivocal Morality: How do you know what’s good, or who’s good, if there’s overlap between good and evil? The play does away with the old Medieval concept of morality in which there is clearly good and clearly evil with little in between. The play presages the modern concept of relative morality which says that good and evil are not fixed, but change over time and situation. This concept is revolutionary because it says a man like Macbeth can be both good and then evil, given the choice, almost overnight. It is the existential choice to change that empowers Macbeth.
“Lesser than Macbeth and greater.”
“These solicitings cannot be evil, cannot be good…”
thanks for the answers guys, but do you guys have any quotes on top of your head right now that are good examples of equivocations
You've gotten a lot of really helpful advice and nearly all the significant examples of equivocation in this play. I would add the fact that Malcolm says he is a lascivious, greedy, evil man (when he's talking with Macduff), but he is not. A wood (forest) cannot move, yet it does. Water washes away blood, but obviously it does not wash away the sin. An interesting area to study in Macbeth.
The advice from post #2 to remember that "nothing is what is not" from Act I is the best equivocation to use for finding others. For instance, in Act IV, Scene I, the witches tell Macbeth, "none of woman born/Shall harm Macbeth." So Macbeth believes no man will kill him. But, his murderer has been born by being cut from his dead mother's womb. The witches also tell Macbeth that he will not be killed if Birnam wood does not come closer in this same act (IV). However, when the soldiers of the opposition hide themselves under the leaves, it seems to Macbeth that the forest itself is moving closer to him, and he loses all hope and courage to fight.
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