Study Guide

Macbeth Versions of Reality

By William Shakespeare

Versions of Reality

Act 1, Scene 1
Weird Sisters (the Witches)

ALL
Fair is foul, and foul is fair;
Hover through the fog and filthy air. (1.1.12-13)

Clearly, Shakespeare's been traveling to Beijing. (Rim shot.) Unfunny jokes about pollution aside, the witches set us up here to mistrust everything. In the fog, it's hard to tell what's really there. Are they even there?

Act 1, Scene 3
Macbeth

MACBETH
So foul and fair a day I have not seen. (1.3.39)

Hmm. This sounds familiar. Didn't the weird sisters just say almost the exact same thing? Has Macbeth seen this play before, or does he already have some kind of psychic connection with the weird sisters?

Act 1, Scene 4
Duncan

DUNCAN
                                    There's no art
To find the mind's construction in the face.
He was a gentleman on whom I built
An absolute trust. (1.4.13-16)

Here, King Duncan says that the former Thane of Cawdor (who turned out to be a traitor) seemed to be a "gentleman" he could "trust"; ergo, it's impossible to know a man's mind by reading his face. Um, Duncan? Maybe you should listen to yourself and stop putting all your trust in the next treacherous Thane of Cawdor.

Act 1, Scene 5
Lady Macbeth

LADY MACBETH
Your face, my Thane, is as a book where men
May read strange matters. To beguile the time,
Look like the time; bear welcome in your eye,
Your hand, your tongue; look like th' innocent
    flower,
But be the serpent under't. (1.5.73-78)

Whenever flowers and serpents come into it, we're ready to suspect Eve and that pesky snake. And sure enough, here's a woman convincing a man to share in her own, nasty little vision of the way things should be.

Act 1, Scene 6
Duncan

DUNCAN
See, see, our honour'd hostess!—
The love that follows us sometime is our trouble,
Which still we thank as love. […]
                                    Fair and noble hostess,
We are your guest to-night. (1.6.13-15;30-31)

Hope you have your highlighters handy, fair Shmoopers: whenever you see the word "fair," it's a good bet you'll want to uncap them. Since we already know that "fair is foul," Duncan's attempted compliment comes with a big helping of dramatic irony.

Act 1, Scene 7
Macbeth

MACBETH
                            I am settled and bend up
Each corporal agent to this terrible feat.
Away, and mock the time with fairest show.
False face must hide what the false heart doth
   know. (1.7.92-96)

Macbeth is starting to get the hang of this whole deception thing: he's calling on his entire body ("each corporal agent") to help him out, telling his "false face" to hide the treachery of his "false heart."

Act 2, Scene 1
Macbeth

MACBETH
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch
     thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation
Proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshal'st me the way that I was going,
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o' th' other senses,
Or else worth all the rest. (2.1.44-57)

Well, is it? By opening with a question, Macbeth leaves us wondering whether he does really see a dagger—whether there's some supernatural force at work—or whether it's all just a figment of his treacherous brain.

Act 2, Scene 4
Macduff

MACDUFF
Malcolm and Donalbain, the King's two sons,
Are stol'n away and fled, which puts upon them
Suspicion of the deed. (2.4.36-38)

You may look guilty when you run—but you look a lot worse when you're dead. Malcolm and Donalbain are willing to put up with the appearance of guilt if it means that they'll be able to avenge their father in the end.

Act 3, Scene 4
Lady Macbeth

LADY MACBETH
                           O, proper stuff!
This is the very painting of your fear.
This is the air-drawn dagger which you said
Led you to Duncan. O, these flaws and starts,
Impostors to true fear, would well become
A woman's story at a winter's fire,
Authorized by her grandam. Shame itself!
Why do you make such faces? When all's done,
You look but on a stool. (3.4.73-81)

Okay, Lady Macbeth. It's easy to make fun of your poor husband when he's the one having the visions. You won't be laughing as hard when you're the one trying wash an invisible bloodstain out of your hand.

Act 4, Scene 1

FIRST APPARITION
Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! Beware Macduff!
Beware the Thane of Fife! Dismiss me. Enough. (4.1.81-82)

You'd think that Macbeth would have learned to be wary of weird (in both ways) visions and creepy, bodiless ghosts. Instead, he just takes what they say and runs with it. It seems like he's got a pretty bad case of confirmation bias.