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Some of the techniques (and names) Shakespeare uses might seem difficult at first. If that's the case, just think about what the play would sound like if the technique was not used. For instance, when we meet the witches at the start, imagine that they said:

Things aren't what they seem, you know

This is easy to understand but it is not something unusual or interesting, and it doesn't seem to be something a witch might want to say anyway. So instead, they say:

Fair is foul, and foul is fair

Suddenly it's not so obvious what Shakespeare is getting at. This is actually more complex and interesting - opposing ideas are put together and the meaning seems to be a paradox, i.e. a combination of contradictory ideas: how can something fair be foul, and something foul be fair? Let's have a look at this next.

Ambiguities

Fair is foul, and foul is fair

We know the witches are in the middle of a storm and perhaps they are saying that they like this; they are witches so they enjoy bad things and are on the side of evil. However, they could also be saying that what we think looks attractive (or 'fair') is actually bad (or 'foul'). In other words, our ambitions can be our downfall. Alternatively, they could be warning us of things to come in the play - Macbeth is tempted by their predictions and enters a confused, unnatural world, where he cannot trust what he sees and cannot bear what he is.

Perhaps now we can appreciate Shakespeare's skill as a writer - many of his characters say things which are ambiguous. This means that you can interpret them in different ways, so the witches might be talking about the weather, or they might mean something completely different. Another example of ambiguity is when Lady Macbeth says the daggers 'must lie there' - she could mean the daggers must be placed there, but also that the daggers will hide the truth and pin the blame on the servants.

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Hazard Perception

Metaphors, similes, personification... test yourself on these and many more English terms with this hazardous game!

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