As a playwright, Shakespeare was well known for his pieces of work that incorporates so much more than just stage directions and a script. Within his work, he brought to light so much about mankind that still gets brought into question to this day. In Macbeth, a play written by Shakespeare in the year 1606, he toys with the idea of equivocation. This is when a person is intentionally deceiving a person without completely lying. This skill that some people hold is portrayed by using language that may be misleading or that can refrain from revealing crucial information or in other words, the truth. “Here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale; who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven.” This quote is implying that equivocation can promise what it may not be able to deliver and it also can increase desires that it will also not be able to fulfill. Equivocation is an important theme that is utilized throughout Macbeth. Macbeth is a play that consists of many different characters that use trickery or manipulation in a way to not come right out and reveal important information. Lady Macbeth, Macbeth and the three witches all hold these traits throughout the play.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth highlight this perfectly when they showcase their ability to exploit their image and language when they approach others in order to conceal the inhumane crime they are going to commit. This is all specifically highlighted in Act 1 Scene 7 of the play, “Away, and mock the time with fairest show. False face must hide what the false heart doth know” (Macbeth 1.7.81-83). Macbeth is trying to convince himself to go through with this murder and be a man just like he promised to his lady. However, I see this as a control feature that Lady Macbeth withholds within her character. She is able to use equivocation on her own husband to fool him into committing an act that he isn’t completely sure is the correct thing. Macbeth holds the characteristics of a true man by wanting to not kill Duncan because of how much he has honored Macbeth and created this great reputation for him. “Prithee, Peace: I dare do all that may become a man; who dares do more is none” (Macbeth 1.7 45-46). However, Lady Macbeth has the ability to make her husband believe he is nothing like a true man if he does not commit this crime. She is able to manipulate her husband to believe that he has something to prove even though he does not. They benefit politically if they do commit this crime but Macbeth knows deeply that it is not the correct way to deal with the adversity they may be facing. They are both using equivocation in a sense to conceal their wrong doings from their own minds and consciousness, which in turn reveals that they are using equivocation on those around them but also on themselves.
The three witches are also characters that help display this theme throughout the play. They are able to rely on their scheming language and riddles to bypass the truth when encountering other characters. To start of the play they introduce the theme, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (1.1.12). This line in the play is foreshadowing the use of equivocation that is going to be used in the play and it also highlights the discrepancy between what is said and what is meant. They are using this paradox to point out to the audience that things that may be mentioned in the play will come off as deceiving. The witches then further develop the theme by using their deceptive prophecies which may be most important when it comes to equivocation in the play. The witches are able to provide answers to characters, such as Macbeth, without informing him about the “how” or “what” will truly happen. They seem to say things that may seem very pleasant but the methods by which the predictions are achieved are not so wonderful. They provide Macbeth with the information that he will not be able to be harmed by someone who was born by a woman. However, they exclude the most important fact and fail to tell Macbeth that Macduff, a character in the play, happened to be removed from his mother at birth by surgery and not a natural birth, which in turn would make him not being born by woman. This will further develop to be an issue for Macbeth throughout the play because Macduff with later become a threat and Macbeth will be blindsided.
Further in act 1 of the play, Banquo comes across an encounter with Macbeth. I found this part of the act to hold significance because it is a point in this play that a character is able to seperate themselves from the misleading attributes of the witches. “And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us the honest trifles” (Macbeth 1.3. 135-137). Banquo is trying to indirectly warn Macbeth about the witches prophecies. He is stating that the words they say can be true, but not in the meaning that is expected. However, Macbeth ignores these signs of Banquo trying to alert him about these small truths that may in the end betray him. There is no point in the play where the witches are openly lying to Macbeth, he is just being provided with information that he wants to hear and chooses to ignore the rest of what the witches are saying. He is ambitious and greedy when it comes to the prophecies and his eagerness leads him to interpret the prophecies too literally. Him picking and choosing what he wants to hear and comprehend will further lead him into tragedy.
Equivocation is a crucial theme throughout Macbeth however, it is often overlooked because of its complication. The word itself is only mentioned a few times throughout the play but how it is used it far more important.