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equivocation in Macbeth
Equivocation is important as it is the main technique that the Witches use to lead Macbeth to his own destruction.It is first used in Act 1 Scene 3 as a prophecy for Banquo in their first encounter:
"Lesser than Macbeth, but greater!
Not so happy, yet much happier!
Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none."
Every line consists of 2 contrasting ideas, leaving Macbeth and Banquo much confused. How can someone be lesser than and greater than another at the same time? This creates a sense of ambiguity that unsettles the audience. It not only reinforces the unreliable nature of the 3 Witches but also highlights the moral weakness of Macbeth to fall for the prophecy. The equivocation serves as a driving force for Macbeth to kill Banquo later in the play, out of fear that his offsprings will takeover his throne. It plants fear and insecurity in Macbeth, spurring him to take actions to secure his personal interests. In other words, it serves to propel the plot as it is largely linked to Macbeth's descend into a cold-blooded murder later on in the play.
When Macbeth seeks their counselling later on in act4 Scene 1, the apparitions also equivocate. This time it plays a great part in Macneth's downfall as it injects in him a false sense of security, causing him to be overconfident. The second apparition, a bloody child, says
"Be bloody, bold, and resolute, laugh to scorn the power of man
For none of woman born shall harm Macbeth"
It suggests that he is invincible as "none" in this world is able to defeat him. However, only later does he learn that Macduff, who would eventually kill him, is born of Caesarean session and hence does not fall into the category of the prophecy. Similarly, the third apparition says he will not be defeated until "Great Burnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill/ Shall come against him", which is a virtually impossible thing. Macbeth does not know that it is not the physical forest that will move towards his castle, but it refers to Malcolm's army taking camouflage under the branches of Birnam trees. In both cases, the Witches do not lie. They equivocate - telling him part of the truth but withholding crucial information so as to deceive him. Taking advantage of Macbeth's fondness of being flattered, they leave the prophecies to his own interpretations, which are bound to be wrong. Because of the equivocation, Macbeth lets down his guard and does not prepare his forces against attacks, which eventually leads to his downfall. This is significant because the equivocations play a crucial part in propelling the play by filling Macbeth with security, "man's chiefest enemy". Perhaps through this Shakespeare wants to highlight the corruptive powers of the 3 Witches and warn the audience at the time not to tamper with the supernatural, whose evil and dangerous powers will eventually bring anyone associated with them to their doom, just as what they do to Macbeth.
Equivocation is also used by Banquo in Act 1 Scene 4, when he says the Witches "win [them] with honest trifles, to betray's/ in deepest consequences. Banquo recognises and warn Macbeth of the potential harms of listening to the Qitches. Although it seems like a spontaneous remark by Banquo, it foreshadows the destructive consequences the Witches will bring, creating a sense of unease and suspense in the audience.
It is also used by the porter in Act 2 Scene 3, acts as a comic relief to the tension and violence of Dumcan's murder to foreshadow Macbeth's downfall. He says to Macduff and Lennox that drinking "makes him, and it mars him" Drinking here represents the lust for power. It drives one to go to great length to achieve power, disregarding any moral principles or consequences. It foreshadows the extent Macbeth is consumed by his "vaulting ambition" to secure his power after the murder of Duncan. He goes on to kill innocent people- Banquo amd Macduff's family- who threatens the security of his throne. The more he kills, the more cold-blooded he becomes, indicating that unchecked ambition has turned him into an immoral tyrrant.
"It persuades him, and it disheartens him". This line of the porter foreshadows how Macbeth will never be satisfied in his rampage killing to preserve his throne. Like wine, which never fulfils one but spurs one to drink more ("persuades"), Macbeth will never find satisfaction. The word "disheartens", on the other hand, foreshadows that he will be tormented by guilt. The equivocations of the porter serves as a hook to the audience: it provides entertainment and also gives insight into what will eventually happen to Macbeth - guilt-ridden and never satisfied.