Reality and appearance

An emblem featuring a masked person representing reality and appearance, one of four key themes of Macbeth

The contrast between what is real and how things appear is also important in the play.

The classic dagger scene, when Macbeth is not sure if he can trust his eyes, is only one of many references to this theme. For instance, he sees Banquo's ghost at the banquet and Lady Macbeth imagines blood on her hands.

What characters wear and how they appear to others is also an important aspect of this theme. There are several references to clothing and appearance in the play such as when Macbeth asks Ross and Angus, Why do you dress me in borrow’d robes? (Act one, Scene three, Line 109). There is always the sense that what appears fair is not so, and vice versa.

The contrast between reality and appearance is also shown by references to thoughts, dreams and actions.

Banquo talks about the cursed thoughts (Act two, Scene one, Line 8) he has had and his dreams of the witches.

Macbeth talks of the world of thought and dreams and sometimes is stuck there. For instance, Lady Macbeth is critical of Macbeth's foolish thought (Act two, Scene two, Line 19) and talks of him being lost (Act two, Scene two, Line 68) because of this.

Sleep is another theme associated with reality, because characters view it as vital to life, but also like death or being in another world.

Macbeth is told he has murdered sleep and will sleep no more (Act two, Scene two, Line 32) while Lady Macbeth thinks of sleep as death, calling it the sternest good-night (Act two, Scene two, Line four).