In Macbeth, Donalbain says, in Act 2, Sc 3, line 57, "There’s daggers in  men’s smiles." Shakespeare uses different characters to explore the notion of deception at different points in the...

In Macbeth, Donalbain says, in Act 2, Sc 3, line 57, "There’s daggers in  men’s smiles." Shakespeare uses different characters to explore the notion of deception at different points in the play, in different contexts and for different reasons. Evaluate the extent to which at least two characters practice deception. I chose the three witches, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In exploring the extent of the witches' deception in Macbeth, the reader learns at the very beginning that appearances can be deceiving and that "fair is foul and foul is fair" (I.i.10). The theme of appearance versus reality is therefore already at play. Even when the witches meet Macbeth and Banquo, Banquo comments that he knows they "should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so" (I.iii.45-46). Their appearance causes confusion and allows them to mislead Macbeth, even when Banquo further warns Macbeth that he should not believe everything he hears from "the instruments of darkness" (124). However, the witches know just how to take advantage of Macbeth. They recognize his susceptible nature and his ambition and intend to deceive him through ambiguous images and let his imagination do the rest. The fact that Macbeth sees the witches as an authority on his rightful place as king and goes to them for reassurance is testament to how much they are able to deceive him. Macbeth does not question the apparition's claim that "none of woman born" (IV.i.80) can hurt him and he is encouraged by the fact that Birnam wood can obviously not advance on him. These images should make him doubt the witches, not confirm their prophecies.

Macbeth himself is a deceitful character and his deceit causes grief for everyone. He deceives himself, at first blaming his "vaulting ambition" (I.vii.27) for his evil thoughts and ultimately suggesting that the witches, whom he calls "juggling fiends" (V.viii.19), are responsible for misleading him so. He deceives his king by pretending to be a loyal subject, worthy of his position as Thane of Cawdor, and even though he admits that Duncan "hath honored me of late" (33), he still kills him. He goes on to deceive Lady Macbeth, even though she discourages him from doing anything about Banquo's potential threat when she says "You must leave this" (III.ii.35). He even believes that she will applaud his efforts to have Banquo killed. Macbeth does try to deceive his subjects when they come to the banquet. He is however unable to shake Banquo's ghost and almost gives himself away - except that Lady Macbeth, the ultimate deceiver, persuades the visitors that he has some childhood condition and that "the fit is momentary" (III.iii.55).

Lady Macbeth, from the moment that she hears Macbeth's news, starts planning their future, determined to not allow Macbeth's apparent gentle nature, "full of the milk of human kindness" (I.v.14), to ruin their chances. She talks of Duncan's "fatal entrance" (36) and how she wants the spirits to "unsex me here" (38), meaning that she does not want any compassion or nurturing feelings to get in the way. However, she gracefully receives Duncan. She also deceives Macbeth, making him believe that he lacks courage and will be "so much more the man" (I.vii.51) by going through with Duncan's murder. She deceives MacDuff and Banquo who, on receiving news of Duncan's murder, strive to protect her from the gruesome details.

Lady Macbeth, having deceived the guests at the banquet, deceives herself, thinking that Macbeth will be able to regain his composure, first by washing his hands to "clear[s] us of this deed," in Act II, scene ii, line 67 and then by sleeping it off in Act III, scene iv. Her efforts to deceive everyone are ultimately responsible for her death as she loses all sense of reality.