In Act IV, Scene I of Macbeth, what exactly do the four apparitions represent?

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These apparitions, which Shakespeare uses to string together the actions in the play, serve as a recapitulation – The first apparition reminds us of rebellion, especially Macduff’s, but also any thought about “beheading” the present leader; the second apparition is clearly a reference to Macduff’s birth, “untimely ripped,” ie. what we now call a Caeserian section;  the third apparition signifies Malcolm, and ties in with Birnan Woods, which Malcom cuts down to approach Macbeth’s castle; the fourth apparition, a parade of kings, is a wider symbol in Elizabethan symbolism–the sovereignity of the royal line, violated in Macbeth.  This series of apparitions at this time in the drama reminds the audience of the dichotomy between earthly actions and the will of higher powers, a theme introduced with the first scene of the witches.

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