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Macbeth Fair is Foul a... (Literary essay) 2 Pages 564 Words

             Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair in Macbeth              The quote from the three witches, "Fair is foul and foul is fair," echoes throughout the story, and is the backbone of the many 'switches' that occur between and amongst the characters and their positions. Macbeth's opening line reinforces this theme with, "So foul and fair a day I have not yet seen." He describes the day as foul after having to brutally slay so many men. The day is fair because of his absolute triumph and assured rewards. This, as with many things in the play, see-saws back and forth: his fair winnings and heightened position turn foul again by the end of the play.              Possibly the most notable switch occurs between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. When Lady Macbeth learns of the witches' prophecy, she is absolute in her decision to kill the King. Macbeth, while he clearly likes the idea, and even shares her desire, falters on holding his promise to her until she threatens his manhood directly. After he kills the King and Banquo (separately) he is distraught with shame and guilt, while Lady Macbeth holds herself together and covers for his strange behavior. In Act V, we see Lady Macbeth falling apart, a downfall we later learn leads her to suicide. Macbeth, on the other hand, has forgotten his guilt, and is even willing to fight in the face of certain death when he learns of Macduff's unmotherly birth. While both characters may be viewed as foul, the theme still applies. One would expect, stereotypically, that Macbeth would be the one trying to convince his queasy wife that killing the King would be a blessing. Instead, Shakespeare turns things upside down and puts the pants on Lady Macbeth. Just as we're beginning to accept this, he turns it around again, with Lady Macbeth's suicide and Macbeth's heroic (although evil) bravery.              Act IV contains two noticeable echoes of the "Fair is foul and foul is fair" theme. First, while Malcom and Macduff are talking, we learn of              ...

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"Fair is Foul, and Foul is Fair": Revealing Its Meaning in 'Macbeth'

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“Fair is Foul, and Foul is Fair”: the Meaning and the Use of the Phrase

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Fair is Foul, Foul is Fair Analysis in Macbeth

The phrase “ Fair is Foul, Foul is Fair ” (Act 1, Scene 1) is chanted by the three witches at the beginning of the play. It acts as a summary of what is to come in the tale. Shakespeare uses the phrase to show that what is considered good is in fact bad and what is considered bad is actually good. The theme of fair is foul and foul is fair is therefore very prevalent in Macbeth.

The first characters to showcase this theme are the three witches. Ever since their existence, witches have been known to cause havoc. The three witches in this play are therefore not different from the rest. When Macbeth and Banquo meet them on their way, their destinies change. Wielding their power of deception, they tell Macbeth that one day he will be king.

It is not clear how he would ascend to the throne considering that he has no royal blood and that he has flimsy chances of getting the kingship. Furthermore, the king has two sons, who would inherit the throne if he were to die. Since the witches refuse to reveal to Macbeth how he is going to be king, he realizes that murdering King Duncan and his two sons is the only way. He therefore sets out to kill them.

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The message of the witches is fair to Macbeth, but foul to Banquo. Although he is told that his sons would be kings, Banquo is able to see through the witches’ enticing lies and warns Macbeth to be careful with the words he has just heard: “Oftentimes, to win us our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence”  (Act 1, Scene 3). But Banquo’s warnings do not do much to dissuade Macbeth from pursuing such a perverted path.

Later in the play, Macbeth further consults the prophecies of the witches, where he is fed more crap. He is told that “ none of woman born shall harm Macbeth ” and that he “ shall never be vanquish’d be until great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him .” Macbeth is made to believe that he is invincible by the witches and becomes blind to the imminent danger that befalls him. In the end, he is defeated by humans contrary to what the witches claimed.

Macbeth and his wife are the ones who highlight this theme the most. Although he starts out as a good person, Macbeth’s morality is easily converted by the three witches. The same happens for Lady Macbeth, who becomes exceedingly ambitious after she learns of the witches’ prophecy from her husband’s letter. She tells her husband to “ look like the innocent flower,/ But be the serpent under’t ” (Act 1, Scene 5).

This phrase summarizes the two characters perfectly. She tells him to act fair in the eyes of their guests, but to be foul in order to achieve their ambitious goal. But, as their plan is underway, we realize that Macbeth’s foulness has taken toll over him and is finding it hard to act fair in front of his guests.

“ Away, and mock the time with fairest show/ False face must hide what the false heart doth know ” (Act 1. Scene 7), Lady Macbeth tells her husband to act as a normal jovial host to the king and the other guests and not to show his true intentions to them. They put on quite a facade that no one learns of their real intentions and subsequently, King Duncan is killed by Macbeth.

The same treatment is given to Banquo, whom they describe as “ Here’s our chief guest ” (Act 3, Scene 1) when they have secretly plotted to murder him. They both find it hard to act fair in the presence of Banquo, based on what they plan to do to him. Lady Macbeth says, “ Gentle my lord, sleek o’er your rugged looks;/ Be bright and jovial among your guests to-night” (Act 3, Scene 2) Macbeth tells her to also act normal as well in front of Banquo:

Let your remembrance apply to Banquo; Present him eminence, both with eye and tongue: Unsafe the while, that we Must lave our honours in these flattering streams, And make our faces vizards to our hearts.  (Act 3, Scene 2)     

Macbeth continues with a series of foul play to ensure that he has a stronghold grip on the throne.  At the banquet for the nobles of Scotland, Macbeth dupes everyone around that he has high regards for Banquo when he has just killed him. He says, “ I drink to the general joy o’ the whole table,/ And to our dear friend Banquo, whom we miss ” (Act 3, Scene 4).

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After the murders of King Duncan and his friend Banquo, he turns to Macduff and his family, where Macduff is able to escape, but not his family. Therefore, Macbeth starts out fair, but ends up a foul person: “ I have walked so far into this river of blood that even if I stopped now, it would be as hard to go back as it is to killing people ” (Act 3, Scene 4).

From the beginning, Lady Macbeth is presented as a ruthless and an over ambitious character, who will do anything to become royalty. She is the one who comes up with the plan to kill King Duncan and she also coerces her husband to execute it. One of her memorable quotes highlights the depths she is willing to go to secure the throne for her husband: “ How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me:/ I would, while it was smiling in my face, / Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, / And dash’d the brains out, had I sworn as you have done to this”  (Act 1, Scene 6).

She says that she is willing to bash their tiny baby’s head, if that is what it takes to achieve their goals. In a twist of events, Lady Macbeth does not cherish her new status as queen. She is haunted by the guilt of her evil deeds.

It becomes evident that she has lost her mind when she starts sleepwalking and confessing about her role in the deaths of King Duncan and Banquo. She rubs her hands as a gesture of washing them. This represents guilt and she is trying to take away that guilt by washing away the blood that has stained her hands. Some of the quotes highlighting her guilt include: “ who’d would have thought the old man had so much blood in him” “The Thane of Fife had a wife where is she now?” “Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand” “Banquo’s buried he can’t come out of his grave”  (Act 5, Scene 1). She eventually commits suicide to set herself free from the guilt.

Macbeth’s castle is also a manifestation of the theme fair is foul, foul is fair. King Duncan is moved by the beauty and pleasant atmosphere of the castle. He says, “ This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air/ Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself/ Unto our gentle senses ” To him the castle is fair. After he is murdered in it however, it becomes obvious that the castle is far from what it is made out to be by the owners.

Coincidentally, a porter compares Macbeth’s castle to the gates of hell when Macduff and Lennox persistently knock at the door: “ Who’s there, I’ th’ name of Beelzebul?” (Act 2, Scene 3). The porter unknowingly describes the evil that lurks in the castle.

There is also the honorable title of the Thane of Cawdor. It is not a coincidence that the only two characters with the title try to harm the king. It is the seat nearest to the king’s throne and is therefore reserved for individuals with the highest integrity and courage. But, this is contrary to what is experienced in the play, as the two Cawdors commit acts of treason. King Duncan is shocked by the first Thane of Cawdor’s betrayal that he remarks, “ There’s no art/ To find the mind’s construction in the face ” (Act 1, Scene 4).

Characters who are considered foul when in reality are fair are the chamberlains and the king’s sons Malcolm and Donalbain. Unbeknownst to them, the chamberlains are framed for the murder of King Duncan and unfortunately killed for a crime they did not commit by Macbeth.

While committing the atrocious act, Macbeth overhears the chamberlains say their prayers and when he tries to say “amen” with them he is unable to, due to his guilt. Also, when Malcolm and Donalbain discover that their father, the king has been murdered, they realize they will be the next victims. Donalbain says that “ Where we are,/ There’s daggers in men’s smiles ” (Act 2, Scene 3). They therefore decide to escape, where Malcolm goes to England and Donalbain goes to Ireland.

They are however framed for their father’s murder based on suspicion that they fled without giving any explanation. Macduff tells Ross of the two brothers: “ Malcolm and Donalbain, the king’s two sons, / Are stol’n away and fled, whch puts upon them/ Suspicion of the deed” (Act 2, Scene 4).

The phrase fair is foul, foul is fair  is a dominant theme in Macbeth. It highlights the hypocrisy that people adopt to hide their true intentions. Shakespeare uses this theme to caution about judging things based on the face value. While King Duncan loves Macbeth dearly, it is Macbeth who ends his life. In a nutshell, things do not seem what they appear to be- the good may turn out to be bad and the bad may actually be good. However, Shakespeare cautions that whatever our motives may be, in the end they will come back to haunt us.

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Home / Essay Samples / Life / Emotion / Fairness

Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair in Macbeth

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Life , Literature

Emotion , Plays

Fairness , Macbeth

  • Words: 1261 (3 pages)

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Works cited

  • Shakespeare, W. (1992). Macbeth. In S. Greenblatt (Ed.), The Norton Shakespeare (2nd ed., pp. 1229-1279). W.W. Norton & Company.
  • Harbage, A. (1947). Shakespeare's Audience. Columbia University Press.
  • Kliman, B. (1990). Macbeth and the Conventions of Renaissance Tragedy. Duke University Press.
  • Knight, G. W. (1930). The Witchcraft in Macbeth. Oxford University Press.
  • Muir, K. (2005). Macbeth: A Guide to the Play. Continuum.
  • McEachern, C. (2002). The Cambridge Companion to Shakespearean Tragedy. Cambridge University Press.
  • Stoll, E. E. (1912). Macbeth: The Man and the Action. The Athenaeum Press.
  • Wilson, J. D. (2005). What happens in Macbeth. Cambridge University Press.
  • Foakes, R. A. (1968). Image Patterns in Macbeth. Shakespeare Quarterly, 19(3), 269-280.
  • Van Es, B. (2004). Shakespeare in Company. Oxford University Press.

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Theme In Macbeth: "fair Is Foul, Foul Is Fair"

Macbeth's theme in one word is EQUIVOCATION (of double or doubtful meaning, questionable, ambiguous). Equivocation is prevalent throughout the play. Lady Macbeth uses it a lot, and suggests it to her husband when she says "...look like the innocent flower / But be the serpent under 't..." (Act I, Scene 5, 64-65)In other words, the idea or theme in the play is "Fair is foul, foul is fair." Basically, this means that appearances can be deceiving. What appears to be good can be bad, and this is seen in such things as the deceptive facade of Lady Macbeth and in the predictions of the witches.In the first scene of the first act, three witches plan their next meeting in which they will encounter Macbeth. It is in this scene that the theme is first presented, as the tree witches chant, "Fair is foul, and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air" (Act I, Scene 1, 11-12). The witches meet again in scene three of act one. One of the witches discusses a curse she has placed o ...view middle of the document...

Conversely, Macbeth immediately begins to converse with these universally known evil creatures. After hearing their prophecies, one can say that Macbeth considers the witches to be "fair" when in reality their intentions are quite "foul." Macbeth's possession of the titles of Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland come by foul means. Upon hearing the prophecies, Macbeth immediately begins to plan his methods of obtaining these positions, including the murder of the king. Because of this, it may be assumed that he has thought of such actions prior to the meeting. This is an example of what was once fair, a loyal and noble of Scotland, has become foul, an ambitious traitor.On the night of his murder, king Duncan is invited to a banquet hosted by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Once there, Duncan describes the castle in a positive manner. "This Castle hath a pleasant seat; the air / Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself / Unto our gentle senses." (Act I, Scene 6, 1-3). Ironically, Macbeth murders him in his sleep in the castle. The main theme of the play is supported here, as this fair and pleasant castle, has become a foul place of betrayal and murder. This scenario is also seen at Macbeth's second banquet, which he holds to show gratitude and love for his friends.In her first appearances, Lady Macbeth is presented as an ambitiously evil and foul character that will do whatever it takes to get what she wants. We see this motivation in her when she says, "...How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me: / I would, while it was smiling in my face, / Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums, / And dash'd the brains out..." (Act I, Scene 6, 55-58). In these lines, Lady Macbeth threatens that she would smash her baby's head if it meant achieving their goals. However, after killing Duncan and becoming queen, she realizes her mistakes and she is driven mentally ill by it. She is no longer able to live with the guilt and fears of her actions. In her case, we see what was once foul, becomes fair.Throughout the play Macbeth, the general mood is one of crafty and betrayal. What appears to be fair is foul. This is why it is considered to be the major theme of the play. It is also considered to be a major idea in today's society. This is why I find it very meaningful to me as maybe to other people.

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Fair Is Foul And Foul Is Fair in Macbeth Essay

Fair is foul and foul is fair.

The text Macbeth is asphyxiated in themes of treachery, dishonesty, deception shown by the quote Fair is foul and foul is fair. This quote shows that despite the fact that something appears to be devout and pure it may underneath be treacherous and evil. The text is smothered in lies and betrayal from various characters. Shakespeare portrays this theme through the Witches and Hecates meandering of Macbeths prophecy which tricks Macbeth in to believing he is insuperable and he then goes forth to live with no fear. We can also see this through Macbeths murders of his spurious friends in which he looks to befriend them yet perfidiously murders them. Macbeth also conveys this through his murder of Macduffs family. This theme is also expressed through Lady Macbeth by her assisting Macbeth through his murders and lies. She cons him into doing so through his time of doubt and wishes she could take his place. She sits quietly in the background yet plays a major role in Macbeths actions.

The witches and Hecates show deception and trickery through their lies and twisting the truth of Macbeths prophecy. The witches second prophecy set Macbeths future off course, they trick him by telling him a warped version of his prophecy. The witches, under order of Hecate, tell Macbeth None of woman born shall harm Macbeth and Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill. The quotes of the witches deception show that they are telling the truth in an unbelievable way deceiving Macbeth, Macbeth believes they are being honest and is left with an attitude that he is indestructible, he vows from this moment the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand. This quote demonstrates he is fearless and believes nothing can defeat him but the witches lies end him getting killed by Macduff who was untimely ripped from his mothers whom. The quote shows how the prophecy that none of woman born shall harm Macbeth seems like it means no one can conquer him yet it was just a trick. The witches deceptive lies about the prophecy push Shakespeares theme of deceit forward, they are intended to throw Macbeth off course but appear to be of help to Macbeth.

Macbeths murders are deceitful and two-faced, his friendliness and hospitableness shown on the outside is a blanket that covers the disloyal and evil person that he really is. Macbeths was a lying and deceitful person, he appeared to be good to his friends yet only wanting to place them where he wanted which most of the time meant killing them. Duncan was tricked by Macbeths lies and fell into the trap of befriending him believing he was a worthy gentleman. Macbeth invited Duncan over for a dinner in which he intends to kill him. Duncan is hoaxed into thinking that Macbeths intentions are caring and that the air nimbly and sweetly recommends itself yet Macbeths false face must hide what the false heart doth know. These quotes show the contrast between the pair in Duncan believing Macbeth is good and kind-hearted while Macbeth only has his eyes on murdering Duncan. Macbeth is disloyal to his friends and will do anything to fulfil his prophecy.

Lady Macbeth assists with Macbeths evil plans and is the main source of all the disaster that happens. Lady Macbeth was the source of the evil yet sat in the background pretending to be good. She turned Macbeths mind around through his times of uncertainty about the murders. She wished only for Macbeth to fulfil the prophecy and continuously encouraged him and accused him of being a girl. She says you would be so much more the man while at his time Macbeth still believes I dare do all that may become a man; who does more is none. These two quotes show that Lady Macbeth turned Macbeths mind around when he wasnt going to go through with the murder flipping his mannerisms and future around. Had Lady Macbeth not have done this Macbeth would have continued on his path of fearing the murder of Duncan and the path of devastation he ended up going down would not have been taken. Lady Macbeth appears to be an angel but her antics with helping Macbeth prove otherwise, she helps Macbeth to fulfil his prophecy but knows she cant do it herself. Caught with nothing she can do about it she speaks to the gods and pleads unsex me here and fill me from crown to the toe topfull of direst cruelty. This quote shows her desire to fulfil the evil plans that Macbeth is required to fulfil. Lady Macbeth also plans Macbeths murder of Duncan supporting the brutal events that take place. She tells him to look like thinnocent flower, but be the serpent undert. This quote portrays the foul plans Lady Macbeth had in telling Macbeth how to carry out the evil plots. Lady Macbeth deceitfully forces Macbeth into fulfilling his evil schemes while sitting in the background pretending to look saintly.

Shakespeares play Macbeth is enclosed in a coffin of deceit, betrayal and lies which places everyones future in tragedy. The theme runs throughout the entire play and the severity of the theme ends in death for most characters. The themes of deception are portrayed through the witches and Hecates twisting of the truth to Macbeth making him believe he is invincible. As well as being shown through the witches Macbeths murders were both brutal and deceitful at the same time conveying the theme of lying and treachery. Lady Macbeth played a big part in the murder yet did not directly do any herself. She had control of Macbeths mind and pushed him into what she wanted through encouraging him to do so.

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    It is in this scene that the theme is first presented, as the tree witches chant, "Fair is foul, and foul is fair, hover through the fog and filthy air" (Act I

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    The text Macbeth is asphyxiated in themes of treachery, dishonesty, deception shown by the quote Fair is foul and foul is fair. This quote shows