What Do the Four Apparitions in Macbeth Symbolize? Exploring the Hidden Meanings

Macbeth is undoubtedly one of Shakespeare’s most intriguing tragedies. With its supernatural elements and chilling characters, it remains a popular read even in modern times. One of the most perplexing yet fascinating aspects of the play is the presence of the four apparitions that are ghostly in nature. These figures are seen by Macbeth throughout the course of the play, adding to his growing paranoia and sense of unease. But what do these apparitions symbolize, and what role do they play in the story?

The first apparition is that of a bloody armor-clad head, which appears before Macbeth and warns him to beware of Macduff. This warning comes to fruition later in the play when Macduff turns out to be one of Macbeth’s most dangerous enemies. The second apparition is a bloody child that tells Macbeth that “none of woman born” will harm him. This figure suggests that Macbeth is invincible and cannot be defeated by any mortal. The third apparition takes the form of a crowned child holding a tree. It tells Macbeth that he will never be defeated until Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane, which again helps to solidify his feelings of invincibility. Finally, the fourth apparition is that of a procession of kings, with the last one holding a mirror. This apparition tells Macbeth that his descendants will be kings, but then the mirror reveals Banquo, suggesting that his descendants, not Macbeth’s, will occupy the throne.

The symbols presented by these apparitions are incredibly thought-provoking, and they help to set the tone for the rest of the story. The sense of dread and darkness that surrounds Macbeth’s character as he interacts with these spectral figures is a defining feature of the play. From bloody heads to visions of future monarchs, the apparitions contribute to the play’s overarching theme of the nature of ambition and the human desire for power.

The First Apparition: A Bloody Head

In Act IV of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, the character encounters four apparitions, each detailing a prophecy that will lead to his downfall. The first apparition is a bloody head, which is said to represent the concept of “bloody revenge”. This symbol holds a significant meaning to the main character, Macbeth, as throughout the play, he continuously seeks revenge to secure his position as king and gain power over his rivals.

The symbolism behind the bloody head is further revealed through its specific context in the play. The head is said to belong to Macbeth’s enemy, Macduff, and is a foreshadowing of Macbeth’s eventual defeat at the hands of Macduff. The head being “bloody” adds to the violent and vengeful nature of the entire play.

The bloody head apparition serves as a reminder to Macbeth of the consequences of his violent and murderous actions. It shows the audience that the cycle of violence will not end until all parties involved meet their demise, highlighting the inevitable downfall of Macbeth and all those he has wronged.

The Second Apparition: A Bloody Child

In Shakespeare’s play, “Macbeth,” the second apparition that appears to Macbeth during his meeting with the witches is a bloody child. This apparition is significant as it symbolizes the consequences of Macbeth’s actions towards King Duncan and his pursuit of power.

The bloody child can be interpreted in several ways:

  • It represents guilt and the weight of Macbeth’s conscience. The child’s blood stains on his face are a constant reminder of the innocent lives that Macbeth has taken to reach his goals.
  • The apparition also signifies the inevitability of bloodshed and violence as a result of Macbeth’s actions. The child’s appearance foreshadows the bloody end that awaits Macbeth and those around him as he continues his path towards monarchy.
  • The bloody child may also represent the brutality and violence that exists within Macbeth himself, as he becomes increasingly ruthless in order to maintain his hold on power. The child’s appearance serves as a warning sign of the horrors that await Macbeth if he continues down this dark path.

The symbolism of the bloody child is reinforced by the words of the apparition’s prophecy: “for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” This prophecy implies that Macbeth’s downfall will ultimately come from someone or something other than a human being, as the witches suggest that Macbeth is invincible and will not be harmed by anyone born of a woman.

Symbolism Meaning
Blood stains on the child’s face The consequences of Macbeth’s actions and the weight of his guilt
Brutality and violence within Macbeth The potential for greater horror and violence as Macbeth continues his pursuit of power
Prophecy of invincibility Macbeth’s downfall will come from sources other than human beings

The bloody child is a powerful symbol in “Macbeth” that represents the horror and violence that come with Macbeth’s hunger for power and the consequences of his actions. Its appearance warns of the potential horrors to come and reinforces the tragic outcome of the play.

The third apparition: A crowned child with a tree in his hand

The third apparition in Macbeth is a crucial symbol in the play. It takes the form of a crowned child, holding a tree in his hand. This apparition is a significant turning point for Macbeth, as it constitutes the final prophecy that will ultimately seal his fate.

  • Crowning: The third apparition represents Macbeth’s obsession with power. The crown that the child wears is a direct reflection of Macbeth’s own desires to become king. This symbolizes that Macbeth’s ultimate goal of attaining the throne was unsustainable and corrupt.
  • The Child: The child in the third apparition can be considered as both a representation of Macduff, and a unique symbol in itself. Macduff is the character who ultimately kills Macbeth, and the baby in the apparition can be interpreted as either his birth or his son. This reinforces Macbeth’s fears about his own demise and foreshadows the inevitable outcome of the play.
  • The Tree: The tree in the third apparition is a symbol of life, growth, and hope. However, in this context, it represents the impending end of Macbeth’s reign. The tree indicates that the line of kings will continue, but not through Macbeth’s lineage. It emphasizes the idea of regeneration, pushing the audience to see beyond the current reign and towards a new era.

In conclusion, the third apparition in Macbeth is a crucial symbol that deepens the themes of power, fate, and regeneration in the play. It foreshadows the inevitable end of Macbeth’s reign and the importance of looking beyond the present moment. The symbol of the crowned child with a tree in his hand urges us to consider the bigger picture and to recognize that the path towards power is fraught with danger and can be destructive.

Finally, it is important to note that throughout the play, the apparitions are not just literal visions, but metaphors for Macbeth’s psychological state and inner turmoil. Each symbol conveys a specific meaning that contributes to the overall narrative and momentum of the story.

The Fourth Apparition: A Line of Eight Kings with Banquo at the End

The fourth and final apparition in Macbeth is perhaps the most perplexing one. It consists of a line of eight kings, with Banquo at the end. Each king is holding a mirror, reflecting another line of kings, making for a total of sixteen. This apparition symbolizes a few different things, and the number four plays a crucial role in its interpretation.

  • The number four: The number four is significant because it represents stability and balance. It is often associated with the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) and the four elements (earth, air, fire, and water). In the context of the fourth apparition, the number four could suggest that the line of kings represents a stable and balanced rule.
  • The line of kings: The line of kings symbolizes the future of Scotland’s monarchy. The fact that each king is holding a mirror suggests that they are reflecting the past and future rulers of Scotland. The first king in the line is holding a mirror that reflects Duncan, the current king. As the line progresses, the kings become increasingly more menacing and tyrannical, ultimately leading to Banquo, who represents a threat to Macbeth’s rule.
  • The presence of Banquo: Banquo’s presence at the end of the line of kings is significant because he represents a threat to Macbeth’s rule. The fact that he is holding a mirror suggests that he, too, is reflecting the past and future rulers of Scotland. However, unlike the other kings in the line, Banquo’s descendants will eventually rule Scotland. This apparition could be interpreted as a warning to Macbeth that his reign is not secure and that he will be overthrown by Banquo’s descendants.

The fourth apparition is a complex and layered symbol that requires careful interpretation. Its use of the number four highlights the stability and balance of a line of rulers, while the presence of Banquo suggests that Macbeth’s rule is not secure. Overall, the fourth apparition is a warning to Macbeth that his ambition and desire for power will ultimately lead to his downfall.

Symbolism of Blood in Macbeth

Shakespeare’s use of symbolism is evident in his tragic masterpiece Macbeth, and one of the most significant symbols in the play is blood. Blood appears throughout the play, and its meaning changes as the story progresses.

In the beginning, the sight of blood represents honor and bravery, as Macbeth is praised for his heroic actions in battle. However, as he descends into darkness and committed acts of violence, the symbolism of blood shifts to represent guilt and the consequences of his actions.

The use of blood is so prevalent in Macbeth that it is almost a character in itself. It symbolizes violence, guilt, and evil, and its imagery is found in some of the most important scenes in the play, including the murder of Duncan and Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness.

Symbolism of Blood in Macbeth: Examples

  • The opening scene of the play sees blood being celebrated as a symbol of heroism and honor. The bleeding captain hails “For brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name – / Disdaining fortune, with his brandish’d steel, / Which smoked with bloody execution, / Like valor’s minion carved out his passage” (Act 1, Scene 2).
  • After Macbeth murders Duncan, he sees blood everywhere, staining his hands. This symbolizes the guilt he feels and his inability to wash away his sins, as he famously declares, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather / The multitudinous seas incarnadine, / Making the green one red” (Act 2, Scene 2).
  • When Lady Macbeth is plagued by guilt and madness, she sees bloodstains on her hands that she cannot remove. She says, “Here’s the smell of the blood still. All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh” (Act 5, Scene 1).

Symbolism of Blood in Macbeth: Table

Act and Scene Symbolism of Blood
Act 1, Scene 2 Honor and bravery
Act 2, Scene 2 Guilt and the consequences of violence
Act 5, Scene 1 Mental instability and madness

Overall, the symbolism of blood in Macbeth illustrates the character’s descent into darkness and the cost of their ambition. It is a powerful reminder that actions have consequences, and while we may try to wash away our sins, we cannot escape them.

The supernatural and its role in Macbeth

Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth is known for its supernatural elements, including witches, ghosts, and apparitions. These supernatural occurrences play a significant role in the plot of the play and in shaping the character of Macbeth himself. In this article, we will explore the symbolism of the four apparitions in Macbeth and their broader significance in the context of the supernatural in the play.

  • The witches: The three witches in Macbeth are the first supernatural characters we encounter. Their role is to lay the groundwork for the rest of the supernatural events in the play, predicting Macbeth’s rise and eventual downfall. They foreshadow the coming of the supernatural and serve as a warning of the dangers of the pursuit of power.
  • Banquo’s ghost: Banquo’s ghost appears to Macbeth during a dinner party, causing Macbeth to become unhinged. Banquo’s ghost represents Macbeth’s guilty conscience and shows how his actions have consequences. The appearance of Banquo’s ghost acts as a reminder that the supernatural is not just a source of power, but also a source of punishment.
  • The bloody child: The second apparition is a child covered in blood, telling Macbeth that he cannot be killed by any man born of a woman. This apparition represents Macbeth’s false sense of invincibility and the self-deception that he has fallen into. The child’s appearance also serves as a cruel joke by the supernatural forces, as Macbeth is ultimately defeated by a man who was born through a caesarean section.
  • The crowned child holding a tree: The final apparition is a child holding a tree and wearing a crown. This apparition represents the idea that Macbeth will not be defeated until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane, foreshadowing the army that will eventually defeat him. It also symbolizes Macbeth’s growing desire for power, showing how his ambition has turned him into a tyrant.

Overall, the supernatural in Macbeth serves a dual purpose: to provide a backdrop of eerie, mystical events, and to serve as a warning against the dangers of greed and ambition. The apparitions in particular represent Macbeth’s growing madness and his lack of control over his own fate, showing that the supernatural is not something to be taken lightly.

Through the use of these supernatural elements, Shakespeare was able to create a powerful and haunting play that has stood the test of time. The symbolism of the four apparitions in Macbeth adds depth and complexity to an already rich text, and serves as a reminder of the role that the supernatural can play in shaping human history and destiny.

The Theme of Ambition in Macbeth

William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth explores the theme of ambition, which is the driving force behind the protagonist’s actions. In Macbeth, ambition leads to both the rise and fall of characters, and it is a major factor in the play’s plot and themes.

What Do the Four Apparitions in Macbeth Symbolize?

  • The first apparition, a floating head, symbolizes Macbeth’s desire for power and the fear that his actions will lead to his downfall.
  • The second apparition, a bloody child, symbolizes the consequences of Macbeth’s actions and the bloodshed that will follow.
  • The third apparition, a crowned child holding a tree, symbolizes Macbeth’s false sense of security and the prophecy that will lead to his downfall.
  • The fourth apparition, a line of eight kings, represents the future of Scotland and the consequences of Macbeth’s actions for generations to come.

The Importance of Ambition in Macbeth

Ambition is a major theme in Macbeth and is closely linked to the character’s actions throughout the play. Macbeth’s ambition is what drives him to murder and become a tyrant, and it ultimately leads to his downfall.

The play also explores the dangers of unchecked ambition and the consequences that can arise from pursuing power at any cost. Macbeth’s ambition blinds him to the moral implications of his actions and causes him to lose sight of what is truly important.

The Role of Lady Macbeth in Macbeth’s Ambition

Lady Macbeth is a key player in Macbeth’s rise to power, and her ambition fuels his actions throughout the play. Her manipulation and encouragement push Macbeth to commit murder and seize the throne.

Lady Macbeth’s Influence on Macbeth’s Ambition Examples from the Play
Challenging Macbeth’s masculinity “When you durst do it, then you were a man;”
Questioning Macbeth’s resolve “Art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour, as thou art in desire?”
Crafting the plan for Duncan’s murder “We fail? But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we’ll not fail.”

Overall, ambition is a key theme in Macbeth that drives the play’s plot and characters. The four apparitions in the play symbolize the consequences of unchecked ambition, and Lady Macbeth’s influence reveals the dangers of ambition when left unchecked.

Significance of Banquo’s Ghost in Macbeth

One of the most famous scenes in Macbeth is Banquo’s ghost appearing at the banquet, raising more questions than answers. Is it actual paranormal activity or just Macbeth’s psychological instability? Does it symbolize anything pivotal to the play’s story or is it just a fleeting moment? Here, we will discuss the significance of Banquo’s ghost in Macbeth:

  • The ghost represents Macbeth’s guilt and paranoia. Since Banquo is dead, the ghost is just a manifestation of Macbeth’s guilty conscience and fear of being caught, especially since Banquo’s prophecy is that his descendants will be kings. The ghostly appearance reveals Macbeth’s vulnerability and inner turmoil, leading to him yelling: “Avaunt and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee!”
  • Banquo’s ghost symbolizes Macbeth’s fall from grace. By killing Banquo, Macbeth slides deeper into his role as the tyrant king, opting for evil assassination instead of following the rules of the divine right of kings. Banquo’s ghostly visitation reminds Macbeth of the reasons why he cannot rest easy on his throne. In his mind, he now has to deal with a potential usurper – Fleance, and Banquo’s ghost haunt him fiercely
  • The ghost of Banquo is the epitome of Macbeth’s checks and balances. Although Banquo was not a direct counterpoint to Macbeth, he did take issue with Macbeth’s actions throughout the play. Banquo’s ghost, therefore, represents all the parties that Macbeth has neglected or displaced throughout his quest for power, making it clear that there is always a reckoning for those who have wronged others.

Ultimately, Banquo’s ghost serves as a reminder of the consequences and repercussions of immoral and evil behavior. Macbeth cannot escape the sin he has committed, and although he thinks he has silenced Banquo forever, his ghost was still there to show him the error of his ways.

As Macbeth becomes more ruthless, his fear and guilt grow, and his sanity is diminished, which is highlighted by Banquo’s ghost’s presence. It represents the decay of the human spirit, an omen of doom that ensures Macbeth’s troubled sleep and restless nights. It is a ghost that haunts Macbeth and, consequently, ensures that justice will be served.

The Theme of Guilt in Macbeth

Guilt is a pervasive theme in Macbeth, a play that explores the psychological toll of ambition and power. Throughout the play, the characters’ guilty consciences weigh heavily on their minds, leading to madness, despair, and ultimately, their downfall. This article will examine how the four apparitions in Macbeth symbolize this theme of guilt.

  • The First Apparition: The first apparition that Macbeth sees is a floating head, warning him to beware Macduff. This symbolizes Macbeth’s guilt for having already killed innocent people, and his fear of retribution from someone he perceives as a potential threat. The disembodied head represents Macbeth’s own guilty conscience, which haunts him and forebodes his own downfall.
  • The Second Apparition: The second apparition is a bloody child, telling Macbeth that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” This symbolizes Macbeth’s belief that he can escape punishment for his crimes. His guilt has driven him to become paranoid, and he believes that he can manipulate fate in his favor. The bloody child represents the innocence that Macbeth has already destroyed, and his desperation to maintain his power at any cost.
  • The Third Apparition: The third apparition is a crowned child holding a tree, telling Macbeth that he will not be defeated until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. This symbolizes Macbeth’s growing delusion and arrogance, which are fueled by his guilt. He believes that he is invincible, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary. The crowned child represents Macbeth’s own desire for power and control, which ultimately leads to his downfall.
  • The Fourth Apparition: The fourth apparition is a procession of kings, led by Banquo’s ghost. This symbolizes Macbeth’s ultimate guilt and his fear of retribution. The procession represents the rightful kings whom Macbeth has displaced, and Banquo’s ghost represents the guilt that Macbeth feels for having killed his friend and ally. The apparitions are a manifestation of Macbeth’s guilty conscience, and they serve as a haunting reminder of the crimes he has committed.

In conclusion, the theme of guilt is a central element in Macbeth. The four apparitions in the play symbolize Macbeth’s guilty conscience and the psychological toll that his ambition and lust for power have taken on him. The play serves as a cautionary tale about the destructive power of guilt, and the importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions.

The Role of Prophecies in Macbeth

Macbeth, the classic play by William Shakespeare, is famous for its gripping storyline and dark themes. One of the major elements that drive the plot of the play is the role of prophecies.

The prophecies in Macbeth mainly come from the three witches who appear throughout the play. They prophesize Macbeth’s ascension to the throne, but their prophecies are cryptic and difficult to interpret.

However, the four apparitions that appear to Macbeth give a clearer picture of what is to come. These apparitions, and what they symbolize, play a crucial role in the play.

The Four Apparitions in Macbeth and What They Symbolize

  • The First Apparition – An armed head
  • The first apparition Macbeth sees warns him to beware of Macduff. It symbolizes death and destruction, particularly the loss of the throne and the end of Macbeth’s reign. It foreshadows the demise of Macbeth’s tyrannical rule.

  • The Second Apparition – A bloody child
  • The second apparition assures Macbeth that no man born of a woman can harm him. This apparition symbolizes the Macbeth’s fate and destiny, as his confidence in his seemingly invincible power grows. However, it also foreshadows the truth of the prophecy – that Macbeth’s end will come from an unexpected source.

  • The Third Apparition – A crowned child holding a tree
  • The third apparition predicts that Macbeth will remain invincible until Birnam Wood comes to Dunsinane. This symbolizes Macbeth’s confidence in his rule, as he believes that it will never come to an end. However, it also foreshadows his downfall when Birnam Wood figuratively and literally comes to Dunsinane.

  • The Fourth Apparition – A line of eight kings with Banquo last
  • King # Symbols on Head Meaning
    1 Wearing a crown and holding a mirror Duncan, the first king to be murdered by Macbeth
    2 Wearing a crown and holding a scepter Macbeth, the current king
    3 Bloody Malcolm, who will defeat Macbeth and become king
    4 Wearing a doublet and helmet King James I, who was on the throne at the time the play was written
    5-8 No symbols Future kings who will come from Banquo’s lineage

    The fourth apparition shows Macbeth a line of future kings, with Banquo’s descendants being the last. It symbolizes the fate of the crown and foreshadows Macbeth’s slow downfall and the end of his reign. The apparition represents the theme of ambition and power, and how it can corrupt even the most noble of individuals.

The Role of Prophecies in Macbeth

Without the role of prophecies in Macbeth, the play would lack its famous twists and turns that make it an epic masterpiece.

The prophecies gave Macbeth an insight into his future, but they were cryptic and misleading, leading him to make decisions that ultimately brought about his end. The four apparitions give Macbeth a clearer insight into his fate and foreshadow the eventual downfall of his tyrannical rule.

The role of prophecies in Macbeth is a crucial element that highlights the dangers of ambition and power, and how they can corrupt even the most honorable individuals.

What Do the Four Apparitions in Macbeth Symbolize?


1. What are the four apparitions in Macbeth?
The four apparitions in Macbeth are a floating head, a bloody child, a crowned child holding a tree, and eight kings.

2. What does the floating head symbolize?
The floating head represents Macbeth’s arrogance and overconfidence leading to his downfall.

3. What does the bloody child symbolize?
The bloody child symbolizes the inevitability of Macbeth’s moral destruction and his inability to escape from it.

4. What does the crowned child holding a tree symbolize?
The crowned child holding a tree symbolizes Malcolm, who will indeed become king and restore order in Scotland.

5. What do the eight kings symbolize?
The eight kings symbolize Banquo’s lineage and the eventual overthrow of Macbeth’s tyrannical reign.

6. Why are the apparitions significant to the play’s themes?
The apparitions serve as a warning to Macbeth and a reminder that his actions have consequences.

7. How do the apparitions impact the play’s overall message?
The apparitions highlight the dangers of unchecked ambition and the corrupting nature of power.


Thanks for learning about what the four apparitions in Macbeth symbolize! Shakespeare’s play is full of complex themes and symbolism, and the apparitions are a key element in understanding the story. We hope you’ll visit again soon for more literary analysis and discussion.