Explain the paradox of the apparitions in Act IV of Macbeth.
In Act IV, Scene I, when the apparitions appear before Macbeth, there are a couple of instances of paradox (a statement that seems silly or illogical but may, in fact, have some truth to it).
First of all, the second apparition tells Macbeth to laugh at the power of other men because nobody "of woman born shall harm" him. This statement seems illogical because everybody is, technically, "of woman born" since everyone has a mother. Macbeth takes this statement at face value, believing that he truly cannot be harmed by anyone. Later, it is discovered that this paradox has some latent truth when the reader learns that Macduff was not born naturally but was "ripped" from his mother's womb in a caesarean section. By taking this statement at face value, Macbeth fails to realize the danger posed by Macduff.
Another example of a paradox comes with the third apparition who tells Macbeth that he shall "never be vanquish'd" until Great Birnam Wood "comes against him." Again, this seems illogical because the woods cannot literally get up and march, and Macbeth comes to this same conclusion. This leads him to believe that his crown is safe. However, there is some truth to this statement since it is not the trees that march against him, but his enemies who congregate at Birnam Wood before marching on his castle at Dunsinane.
The apparitions are paradoxical on a few levels. First of all, Macbeth projects all his fears and hopes into the apparitions. He is fearful of losing his crown; he is fearful of being overthrown; and he is fearful of his lineage not ruling Scotland. The apparations' predictions, paradoxically can never occur, yet they do. We know that the trees move up the hill because the soldiers use them for cover. Macduff defeats Macbeth as he is not naturally from woman born. Lastly, Banquo's line inherits the throne. So, what seems impossible becomes all too possible, and perhaps even more important, it is Macbeth's utter belief in the apparitions that leads to his death