The story of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a classic one of betrayal and destiny. One of the major themes of the play is the use of equivocation to create ambiguity. The definition of equivocation from the Oxford dictionary is: the use of ambiguous language to conceal the truth or to avoid committing oneself; prevarication. The very definition of equivocation contains the use of ambiguity, thus making the two very connected in terms of the story of the play. Equivocation is used multiple times throughout the piece to create a sense of uncertainty, which in turn makes the reader not sure of what will happen next. This makes the reading of the play very compelling. Shakespeare uses equivocation to make the reader think one thing, but at the same time, think another. This is where the ambiguity comes into play.
The first equivocation that appears in the play is the arrival of the witches. “When the battle’s lost and won…Fair is foul, and foul is fair,” (1.1.4-12). At the time that the witches, or weird sisters, say these things, the reader is left with a sense of confusion. What do they mean by “when the battle’s lost and won”? The equivocation of something winning and losing is a description that is unfamiliar to the average reader, thus making it confusing and ambiguous. Because the reader does not know what the witches are implying, it makes it that much more compelling and intriguing for them to keep reading, or in the original media, listening and watching the play. The next equivocating statement made by the sisters is perhaps one of the most famous lines from the play: fair is foul, and foul is fair. This is even more ambiguous than the previous line about losing and winning a battle. Subsequently, the fair is foul, foul is fair line is one of the defining minor themes that accompanies the major theme and motif of equivocation. Nearly every major plot point that will occur can be attributed to the theme of dual meanings.
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