Theme in Macbeth “Appearances can be deceptive”
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In the novel Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare, the idea that appearances can be deceptive is presented as a major theme throughout the play. It is first introduced by the witches. Later on, it is presented through Macbeth himself, and also Lady Macbeth.
The three witches first introduce the theme in Act one, Scene one with their closing statement: “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.” This introduces the idea of deceptiveness of appearances throughout the whole play. This particular quote means that what is good is bad, and what is bad is good. They begin to tell Macbeth that if he murders the King, he himself will take his rein. In other words, they are telling him that it’s okay to kill the King because in the end, he will receive his title. In Act one Scene three, the three witches give Macbeth the title of “king hereafter”. Soon after they leave, two Scottish noblemen come in and announce to Macbeth that the King has named him “Thane of Cawdor”. He contemplates killing King Duncan in order to become “king hereafter” as the witches called him. Once again, the witches introduced this idea to Macbeth getting him to believe that it was a positive one. But really, what came of it wasn’t really so positive.
Although he seems very innocent, Macbeth is a pure example of the theme ‘appearances can be deceptive’. In Act one, Scene three Macbeth says, “And nothing is but what is not.” He has been thinking about murdering the King and the picture of himself as the murderer is so vivid that he is not capable of seeing anything around him. In Act two, Scene one, he says, “…and withered murder, Alarumed by his sentinel, the wolf, Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace, With Tarquin’s ravishing strides towards his design.” In his imagination, Macbeth starts to see murder as a withered man who is called to action by his guard, the wolf. After reading Act one, Scene seven, lines five, one would think of Macbeth as the sentinel who would keep an eye out for danger or call out a warning and protect Duncan from any danger. However, here, murderer’s sentinel or Macbeth bears “the knife” himself keeping an eye out for an opportunity to kill Duncan.
Last but not least is Lady Macbeth. The most evident example of appearances can be deceptive. At first, the general impression of Lady Macbeth is that she is a sweet, kind, harmless woman. Once she read her husband’s letter about his meeting the witches, she feared that he lacked the ruthlessness he needed to kill Duncan and fulfill the witches’ second prophecy. When she learned that the kind was coming to visit, she called upon supernatural agents to fill her with the cruelty that her husband was lacking. She says to him in Act one, Scene five, “Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t.” She is instructing him to look as though he is innocent, but underneath to be plotting to kill King Duncan. Being an even bigger hypocrite, she tells the King, “All our service, in every point twice done and then done double, were poor and single business to contend against those honors deep and broad, wherewith Your Majesty loads or house.” (Act one, Scene six.) By this she means that doing all the past service for him twice does not compare with the honor that he brings them with his visit, all the while in her mind, she plans to murder him.
The idea that appearances can be deceptive is presented as a major theme throughout the play. Evidently, it is enforced through actions by the witches’, Macbeth himself, and his wife Lady Macbeth.