Literary Devices from A to Z – Brought to you by the letter E




is for Equivocation




Equivocation occurs when someone uses ambiguous or unclear language with the intent to mislead or deceive (full definition). One example of this I like is from Macbeth by William Shakespeare in act 1 scene 6 when Lady Macbeth says to King Duncan upon his arrival to her castle:

All our service In every point twice done and then done double Were poor and single business to contend Against those honours deep and broad wherewith Your majesty loads our house.

Lady Macbeth equivocates here. On the surface, it may seem as if she is pandering to Duncan, telling him if they could do everything in their power double and then double again, it wouldn’t be enough to repay him for honouring their house with his visit. Alternately, she could be saying this sarcastically. All that Duncan has done for them at this point, besides honouring Macbeth with the thane of Cawdor title, is appoint Malcolm instead of Macbeth as his successor, something for which both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth deeply resent him. In the short story “A Grave Situation“, protagonist Sam Roeper mourns his wife after she’s left him, tending his garden to help pass the time. Toward the end of the story he lets his neighbour in on his gardening secret when he says,

“It’s all in your choice of fertilizer. Take the one I use, for example. Works like a charm. I have it on good authority its the same fertilizer they use at the graveyard.”

Here, Roeper deceives  his neighbour to believe he, too, could have the same green thumb if he purchases the same fertilizer used by the local cemetery. He equivocates because the one fertilizer the graveyard has in abundance is decomposing human flesh, hinting that Roeper’s wife isn’t missing; he knows exactly where she is: buried in his garden feeding the flowers planted there. Can you think of any examples of equivocation in literature, television or in the movies? Did you get the subtext behind it? Post your examples in the comments section below.