Macbeth is a play written by William Shakespeare about a man who would stop at nothing to fulfill his royal destiny. Macbeth starts out as a strong and moral military leader, until he succumbs to his wife’s wishes and begins to kill anyone in his way. Macbeth strives for power at any cost, eventually leading him straight into hell. Over the course of Macbeth, Macbeth has several encounters with “apparitions”: supernatural beings that appear before Macbeth trying to manipulate him into murdering key figures related to his future as king of Scotland.
Willing to do anything for this ambition, Macbeth falls prey to these apparitions’ attempts on multiple occasions. In each encounter, Macbeth witnesses the apparition before it speaks, giving Macbeth the impression that they are representative of some sort of larger power beyond Macbeth’s comprehension. Because Macbeth believes in this larger power, he is more willing to help fulfill its desires on account of his love for these apparitions. However, Macbeth is being lied to by these apparitions; Macbeth has actually been tricked into killing for nothing but personal gain.
The first appearance of an apparition occurs in Act 1 Scene 3 when Macbeth sees a dagger suspended over a map of Scotland while various people stand around him discussing who will succeed King Duncan as ruler of Scotland after his upcoming death. Upon seeing the dagger move and hover over the name ” Macbeth” Macbeth interprets this as a sign that Macbeth will be the next king of Scotland. Macbeth then sees another apparition in Act 1 Scene 3 when Macduff enters and Macbeth, comforted by the dagger he saw earlier, tells Macduff that no one shall harm Macduff while Macbeth is alive.
Macduff responds to this with “My worthy prince, I thank you. ” Here Macduff refers to Macbeth as his “prince,” which implies that Macduff may serve under Macbeth in the future if he becomes king. After seeing these visions of grandeur related to himself, Macbeth begins to have doubts regarding whether or not he could actually be king of Scotland. Macbeth, afraid that King Duncan will discover Macbeth’s ambition to become the next ruler, decides to kill him in order to rid himself of these fears.
Macbeth tells Macduff and Banquo about his decision and while Macduff is shocked by Macbeth’s plan, Macbeth remains undeterred by Macduff’s reluctance. The second apparition occurs in Act 2 Scene 1 when Macbeth and Banquo encounter “the earthy and abhorred” Hecate at a crossroads. While Banquo greets Hecate with respect she responds ambiguously but her strong negative reaction implies that she does not wish for them to be there; Macbeth interprets this to mean that Macbeth has Hecate’s blessing in killing Duncan.
Macbeth then sees the apparition of a bloody child in Act 3 Scene 4 when Macduff enters and Macbeth asks Macduff if he has any children. Macduff responds by saying “I have a son, my gracious liege, who I beseech your Highness to accept as your ward” which implies that Macduff may serve under Macbeth when Macduff’s son becomes older or comes of age. Macbeth responds to this by telling Macduff how much he likes his son, even going so far as offering his own personal solider to protect Macduff’s son.
Macbeth interprets Macduff’s initial refusal as an indication that Macduff’s son does not have much time left on Earth, which Macbeth interprets to mean that Macbeth has Macduff’s blessing in killing King Duncan. Macbeth then see the apparition of a bloody soldier in Act 3 Scene 4 when Macduff leaves after his failed attempt to convince Macbeth not to kill King Duncan. After seeing several visions, or “forerunners” as they are called by Hecate at the beginning of Act 2 Scene 1, Macbeth begins having hallucinations because he is afraid that someone will discover his plan to kill King Duncan and prevent him from ever becoming king.
Macbeth is also nervous about Macduff’s reluctance and Macbeth’s fear and anxiety over Macduff’s reluctance to kill the king triggers Macbeth’s hallucinations; Macbeth has a hallucination in Act 2 Scene 3 when Macduff enters and tells Macbeth that he fled from England because his entire family was killed. After this hallucination, Macbeth attempts to reassure himself by thinking of all the apparitions he has seen thus far; however, unlike Macbeth, we as an audience know that these apparitions are only tricks played on Macbeth by Hecate and not actual representatives of any higher powers.
Because Macbeth is seeing these visions without realizing their true nature, Macbeth becomes more and more paranoid about his ability to rule. Macbeth then has a hallucination in Act 2 Scene 3 when Macbeth enters and Macduff tells Macbeth that he plans on fleeing to England. Macbeth interprets this as betrayal from Macduff because Macduff previously refused to kill King Duncan, which leads Macbeth to try and convince the audience, as well as himself, that killing King Duncan is the right thing to do by trying to justify his actions throughout Act 1.
The apparitions play an integral role in the play’s plot because they cause Macbeth’s hallucinations, which prevent him from stopping his plan for fear of someone discovering his true ambitions. The apparitions Macbeth sees are not real, but Macbeth misinterprets them to mean that someone is trying to stop Macbeth from fulfilling his ambitions. The apparitions Macbeth sees give Macbeth the idea that everyone around him will betray Macbeth and prevent Macbeth from succeeding in becoming king; while some characters do want Macbeth to fail, this does not come to fruition because Macduff’s family is killed.
While Macduff tells Macbeth that he intends on fleeing to England out of fear for his life, instead of seeing this as an act of disloyalty like Macbeth does, we see this as an act of self-preservation. Appearance vs. Reality is Macbeth’s major theme presented throughout Macbeth. Macbeth begins Act 1 Scene 3 plotting Duncan’s murder, but Macbeth does not know if the witches are truly prophets or just spouting nonsense to mislead Macbeth from his ambitions of becoming king.
Macbeth sees several apparitions on his journey toward murdering King Duncan, which Macbeth interprets as omens that allow Macbeth to justify killing King Duncan; however, all of these apparitions are tricks played by Hecate and meant to lead Macbeth into insanity. By the end of the play, Macduff realizes that Macbeth has become insane due to seeing visions without understanding their true meaning; because of this realization , Macduff kills Macbeth, which Macbeth sees as Macduff plotting against Macbeth to prevent Macbeth from ever becoming king.
Macduff’s intentions are simply to protect his family, but Macbeth reads this act of protection for Macduff’s family as an act of betrayal. By the end of the play, Macbeth realizes that he has gone too far into insanity to turn back and begins to hallucinate again. Shakespeare paints a picture where Macbeth becomes scared about everything because he can no longer differentiate between what is real and what is imaginary.