Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

Macbeth book cover
Start Your Free Trial

False Face Must Hide What The False Heart Doth Know

What does "False face must hide what the false heart doth know" mean?

Expert Answers info

Julie Feng eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2013

write93 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Science

"False face must hide what the false heart doth know" is the very last line of the very first act in Macbeth

It is uttered by Macbeth, who has finally been convinced by Lady Macbeth to engage in a plot to murder to Scottish King, Duncan, in order for Macbeth to eventually become the ruler of Scotland. In the scene, Duncan and everyone else are enjoying a welcome feast at Macbeth's castle, where they are visiting. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth steal away for a moment to talk. When Macbeth had first heard the three witches / weird sisters' prophecy that he would become Thane of Cawdor and then King of Scotland, he immediately felt greedy for those positions. His ambitious feeling began to well up over his good sense. However, his moral code fought against it and he tried to convince himself that evil deeds would not be worth it. He attempted to battle his evil ambitions. When he goes home to his wife, though, her resolve is absolutely steelier than his. She is 100 percent sure that murdering Duncan is the quickest and best path to making her husband King and herself the queen. She manipulates, insults, and coerces him into eventually agreeing with her. She uses their sexual passion and his fear of being "unmanly" and cowardly to make him agree to kill Duncan. 

When King Duncan arrives at Macbeth's castle for a visit, he is jolly and optimistic as usual. He doesn't know that his seemingly gracious hosts are plotting his death. In the last scene (scene 7) of the first act, Macbeth shows that he is finally convinced to commit an evil deed by saying this line. He agrees with Lady Macbeth that they must outwardly hide (false face must hide) their secret evil plans (which are from their false heart). Although they know what they plan to do, the success of the plan relies on them acting like they are in grief and anger when Duncan is discovered to be murdered.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

amy-lepore eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2005

write3,513 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

This quote falls nicely into the "appearance vs reality" theme where Macbeth knows what he will do to further his ambition and become King, but he can not show this to the world or he will be called on it. 

"False face must hide"--put on an act and pretend to be something you are not (a mask of sorts)

"what a false heart doth know"--his heart knows the truth of who he is and what he is planning


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Elinor Lowery eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2005

write381 answers

starTop subject is Literature

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have just gone over the plan to kill Duncan. Now, they have to go about business as usual without letting anyone know about their plan.  The quote means that Macbeth will put on a 'false face' or pretend to look happy and normal to cover for his 'false heart' or heart that is betraying his king. 

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

forever018 | Student

We know from the play that Macbeth has an easily read face, so he must cover up his guilt with a happy face (false face), and pretend like everything is alright(false heart).

johannsebastianfu | Student

Away, and mock the time with fairest show.

False face must hide what the false heart doth know.