Knock, knock! Who’s there, in the other
devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could
swear in both the scales against either scale, who com-
mitted treason enough for God’s sake, yet could
not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator.
Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 3
I first came across this word when watching James Shapiro’s The King and the Playwright on BBC 4.
In 1605 a group of Catholics tried to kill James I by blowing up The Houses of Parliament. For the ins and outs of this see here.
The use of equivocator in Macbeth is likely to be a reference to Jesuit Henry Garnet, a man who was tried and executed for his role in the Gunpowder Plot. Henry Garnet wrote the “Treatise on Equivocation.” This document encouraged Catholics to “equivocate”, or speak ambiguously, when they were being questioned by Protestant inquisitors. A ploy used by Garnet at his own trial.
This is a really, really cool word (because I am a geek) but it’s rarely used in my writing as it’s one of those archaic sounded words that I thought had fallen out of use. Not so. The other day “equivocation” was used in a program on Radio 4 (referring to politicians, aptly.)
unfortunately I was reversing around a corner at the time so the exact context escaped me. Even so, the word lives. Equivocate away.