Equivocations and prophecies
The first prophecies to Macbeth (starting from p. 13)
1) You will be thane of Glamis.

2) You will be thane of Cawdor.

3) You will be king.

The prophecies to Banquo (also starting from p. 13)
1) “Lesser than Macbeth, and greater”. This means that Banquo might seem to be below Macbeth now, but he will become greater than him.

2) “Not so happy, yet much happier”. This means that Banquo may not be satisfied as the situation is now, but he will be satisfied later

3) “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none”. This means that Banquo will not be king himself, but his line of children will become kings.

These prophecies are not traditional equivocations. The prophecies to Macbeth turn out to become true. You can argue that they are equivocations because he is only king for a short time before he dies, but there are no linguistic equivocations. However, the prophecies to Banquo are more ambiguous. The first one is completely contradictive. The same goes for the second prophecy. The last prophecy to Banquo is without ambiguous statements. It pretty obviously means that Banquo will not be king, but his children will be.

The second time Macbeth goes to the witches, he goes to learn his fate. The witches summon their “masters” and different apparitions appear and equivocate. They look like and tell him the following: (Act 4, scene 1)

1) The first apparition (p. 149) is “an armed head”. It warns Macbeth to beware of Macduff. This seems to be rather straight-forward, but it contradicts the next prophecy.

2) The second apparition (p. 149) is “a bloody child”, who says that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”. The apparition makes it sound like Macbeth is unbeatable, since, you would think, every man is born of woman. However later in the play, it turns out that Macduff was not “born” he was “ripped” from his mother’s womb.

3) The third apparition (p. 151) is “a crowned child”, with a tree in his hand. Assures Macbeth that he will never be vanquished until Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane hill. Seems impossible, and Macbeth interprets it like that, but again it shows out that the wood does come to Dunsinane hill.

These are considered the greatest equivocations in Macbeth, probably because these are the prophecies that bring Macbeth to an end, and they are also surprising. The first prophecy says that Macbeth shall beware of Macduff. However, this sounds strange in light of the second prophecy, which says that no man born of woman can harm Macbeth, and you would think that it included Macduff as well – but it doesn’t! Macduff was not actually “born” he was delivered by a caesarean section. He was “ripped” as it says in the book. A formulation like this is one of the minor linguistically ambiguous tricks – equivocations – which the witches use. Also the third prophecy, where the apparition tells Macbeth that he will never be vanquished until Great Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane hill (his castle), plays with the fact that a wood is unable to move, but if men carry wood from the forest the forest has moved. Again, it’s a matter of formulation. Everything that seems to be impossible can backfire. The prophecies are filled with loopholes, which Macbeth doesn’t (intentionally or unintentionally) see.

Written by
Casper Carlsen, 3.B.
Link: http://www.shakespeare-navigators.com/macbeth/Equiv.html
Link: http://www.suite101.com/content/equivocation-in-macbeth-quotations-and-analysis-a329609
Link: http://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=17241
P.S. Feel free to ask questions if you’re in doubt of anything.