What are three strong examples of the theme of appearance vs. reality in Macbeth?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Appearance is often different from reality in Macbeth. We see one example of this when Duncan arrives at Macbeth's castle. He speaks at length about the pleasantness of Macbeth's home, and is full of praise for Lady Macbeth as a hostess. Lady Macbeth goes to great lengths to make Duncan feel welcome. In reality, however, she and her husband are plotting to murder the King, and the audience knows this. The witches' prophecies also appear different than they actually turn out. For instance, they summon an apparition that tells Macbeth that he cannot be killed except by someone "not of woman born." Taking this to mean that he cannot be killed by any person, Macbeth is unpleasantly surprised to discover that Macduff, who was "untimely ripped" from his mother's womb, fulfills this prophecy. Finally, the apparent transformations of the Macbeths over the course of the play strongly suggest that they were never as they seemed. Lady Macbeth, fearsome, strong, and ruthless in plotting against the King, is a shell of her former self by the time she dies. Macbeth, who appears as a loyal and brave thane early in the play, is a murderous monster driven by his own ambition by the end.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Provide three examples of how the theme of appearance versus reality affects the plot in Macbeth.

Throughout Macbeth, Shakespeare explores the theme of appearances versus reality, and he does so in a variety of different contexts.

Consider, for example, the duplicity of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as they murder Duncan to usurp the throne. Duncan assumes Macbeth's loyalty, and Macbeth and Lady Macbeth continue to play the role of loyal subordinates even as they plan his murder. This quality reflects Lady Macbeth's earlier advice from act 1, scene 5:

Look like the innocent flower,

But be the serpent under it.

Another, less malicious, example of duplicity can actually be found in the interactions between Malcolm (Duncan's rightful heir) and Macduff in act 4, scene 3. Here Macduff comes to England in order to swear fealty to Malcolm, but Malcolm does not know whether he can trust Macduff, given Macbeth's own duplicity. Thus, he determines to test Macduff, claiming various vices for himself in order to test Macduff's reaction. In the end, Macduff reaches his point of no return, rejecting Malcolm as a worthy claimant. In so doing, Macduff proves himself in Malcolm's eyes.

One last example can be found in act 4, scene 1, that being the second sequence of prophesies given to Macbeth. Here Macbeth misinterprets those prophesies, believing them to attest to his own invincibility. Instead they point to his downfall.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on