Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Discuss the theme of appearance and reality in Shakespeare's play, Macbeth.

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In Shakespeare's Macbeth, appearance vs reality is a theme that is seen throughout the play.

Macbeth is respected by everyone, but Macbeth only seems honorable; at heart he is a man who will do anything to be king. He hides his intent from Duncan with fine words, while he is planning his murder. Macbeth says:

False face must hide what the false heart doth know. (I.vii.93)

Appearance vs reality is also seen in the beginning of the play when the witches introduce the quotation, "fair is foul, and foul is fair," or what seems good is really bad—Macbeth; and what seems bad is really good—Malcolm flees Scotland when his father dies and looks guilty, but he is only trying to protect himself.

When the witches deliver their predictions to Macbeth, he sees only the possibility of being king, and loses sight of the true nature of the witches: they are evil, even if they seem to bring good tidings. Lady Macbeth welcomes Duncan with all due respect, but she, too, is hoping to kill him so she can be queen.


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In the first scenes we are introduced to a battlefield where we hear of the cowardice and treason of the Thane of Cawdor on which King Duncan comments: “There is no art/to find the man’s construction in the face/He was a gentleman on whom I built/An absolute trust”. When Macbeth and Banquo meet the witches on the moor, Banquo comments that they don’t seem “inhabitants o’ the earth” although they are on it. When Macbeth meets Duncan, he seems happy but he admits he has “black and deep desires”. When Lady Macbeth learns of the prophecies, without hesitation, she encourages Macbeth to “look like the innocent flower/but be the serpent under’t”. Finally Macbeth resolves to murder Duncan and says: “False face must hide what false heart doth know”. Macbeth is going to be a hypocrite.

Duncan is murdered and so Malcolm and Donalbain agree to fly to England and Ireland respectively, as Donalbain says “there’s daggers in men’s smiles”. This means that although people may seem to be grieving for the death of their father, they might be the murderers. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth flatter Banquo and try to seem friendly whereas in reality they consider him their chiefest enemy: “Here’s our chief guest”. Macbeth says to the murderers “but wail to his fall/Who I myself struck down”. Macbeth must pretend to be sorry for Banquo when he’s murdered although he himself ordered him to be killed. Lady Macbeth knows the importance of the banquet and so advises Macbeth to “be bright and jovial among your guests/tonight”. Even though he’s worried and desperate he has to appear friendly and happy.

The witches trick Macbeth by creating illusions which are not real but deceive him and make him feel over-confident (“by the strength of their illusions...”). Evil works through illusions. We see Lennox and the Lords that speak in an ironic way to test each other. Lennox ironically says: “How it did grieve Macbeth!” In this play a good man with principles like Macduff may seem a traitor in the eyes of Lady Macduff and other people. Malcolm says that good people appear good but even evil and malicious people can appear good on the outside: “Though all things foul would wear the brows of grace/Yet grace must still look so”.

Throughout the play appearances, which are often deceitful, influence the whole plot of the play. It comes out mainly through the way Macbeth saw Kingship as a form of security and prestige but was then faced with even stronger feelings of insecurity and fear.