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Fair Is Foul

“Fair is foul and foul is fair” (Act 1.1.11-12). This is a famous line and also one of the major themes in Macbeth. It has many meanings and can be analyzed forever. One of the meanings is things do not appear as they seem. There are many events supporting this theme in the book and also in reality. How to define “good” and “bad”? Everyone has his or her own judgment and there’s no model answer for it. It depends on the point of view and position of the person. There’s a direction for what is fair and what is foul while there’s a large grey area in between, no definite border can be seen.

This phrase introduces itself within the first act of the book during the first scene, the very beginning. The words “fair is foul” are also used by Macbeth when he first encounters the witches. Later on in the book, almost all of the main characters experience this theme. For Duncan, he said, “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face” (Act 1.4.11-12). He means no one can read someone else’s heart by reading his or her face as the traitor of Scotland also has a loyal face. The book implies that something’s outside appearance is inwardly the opposite. Like Macbeth, the battle hero, he seems loyal but he has the thought of murdering Duncan inside their mind. Another good example is Lady Macbeth. She appears as a woman figure but she amazed the readers by upside-down the stereotypes that they had for women.

She encourages her husband to kill the King and even pray to the god for “unsex” her. Her husband even said that she, having such a maculating attitude, should give birth to male children only. Moreover, refers to the witches’ prophecies for Banquo “not so happy, yet much happier” and “lesser than Macbeth, and greater” (Act 1.3.68-70), both of them contradict each other and have double meanings. For example, Banquo won’t be king but he will be the father of a long line of kings and Macbeth as a king should be far happier than Banquo but Banquo is mentally happier than Macbeth because he has a free conscience. Lastly, for Macduff, his wife said he is a traitor as he abundant his family and fled to England. But actually, he is the one who killed the tyrant Macbeth and brought Scotland back to morals, justice and peace. The act that he overthrew Macbeth is a traitor’s act or a loyal general’s act? It’s both-sided.

Why is the world of Macbeth topsy-turvy? Because it reflects the world at large as it really is, not only black and white but an amalgam of both. It is good and evil, innocent and guilty, honest and treacherous. It is a world of sun and clouds, of calm and storm, of cold and warmth. In the book Macbeth, the writer holds up a mirror that reflects not only the outward manner of man but also his conflicting innate character. This mirror reveals glory as blood-stained, safety as dangerous, friends as inimical. There are many examples in daily life that can prove Shakespeare’s thesis. For example in politics, critics of the Iraq War say the U.S. won it but lost it, echoing the words of the witches. Clinton’s second term as U.S. president was fair in terms of the economy and foul in terms of the sex scandal that led to his impeachment. A more common example which almost all students have experience is getting a low mark on the test or a bad grade on the report card. This seems foul as it is said to be a failure, but this is actually fair as failure makes improvement. In conclusion, “Fair is foul and foul is fair” (Act 1.1.11-12) is not only true in Macbeth but also in the actual world. Make a second thought, fair and foul are actually the same thing.

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Fair Is Foul. (2021, May 16). Retrieved September 18, 2021, from