Fair Is Foul And Foul Is Fair Theme Essay Examples

Macbeth Themes: Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair

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The theme of ‘Fair is foul, foul is fair’ permeates throughout the play ‘Macbeth. ‘ Explain what it means, providing examples from the play to support your answer: One of the most important themes in the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare comes from one of the last lines in Act 1, Scene 1 of the play. The three witches speak this simple line ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair,’ shortly before they disperse and it becomes a prophecy and an underlying warning for the rest of the play.

The connotations of this one line becomes significant as the play unfolds beginning even with Macbeth’s opinions at the beginning of the story and lasting throughout the play with the constant recurring themes of deception, doing evil in the name of good, equivocation and ambition. We see that even from the beginning the unfolding events and themes can all be predicted through these first few lines in Act 1 Scene 1, events and themes that surround Macbeth’s eventual demise.

The line ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair,’ has important significance to the play Macbeth. When the line comes from the witches we assume at first that they are speaking plainly, that the line means that for them, what is fair or good, for the witches is foul or evil and what is evil and foul for the witches is fair and good and that the witches delight in the confusion of the two, fair and foul.

However when comparing the quote to the rest of the themes of the play, we interpret a deeper meaning in the line to the play. We know that the quote is an underlying theme that reflects through the plot of the play. We see that a similar line refers to the victory of the war that Macbeth achieves which is highlighted in the line, ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen. ’ We interpret this as the day being fair in victory but foul in the lives that were lost and the dreary weather that the army experience afterwards.

Fair is foul and foul is fair also presents itself in the way the prophecies are revealed to Macbeth, the equivocation in the witches speaking the truth of Macbeth’s future positions of Thane of Cawdor and King thereafter. But that these are only half truths and even when the witches reveal to Macbeth the apparitions and prophesies; ‘Beware Macduff;’ that ‘none of woman born shall harm Macbeth;’ and that ‘Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him;’ they speak in a way that causes Macbeth to believe he is invincible.

This is highlighted in the quote where Banquo remarks: ‘Oftentimes, to win us our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence. ’ Another way that the theme of ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair’ proffers itself is through the deception of King Duncan by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. This deception is even worse because of Duncan’s trust in Macbeth, so as Lady Macbeth quotes; ‘Look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t. Duncan is not suspicious because as Macbeth quotes in his soliloquy; ‘He’s here in double trust: First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, strong both against the deed; then as his host, who should against his murderer shut the door, not bear the knife myself. ’ It is doubly ironic that Duncan should trust and praise Macbeth so highly when he says to Lady Macbeth; ‘See, see, our honor’d hostess! The love that follows us sometime is our trouble, which still we thank as love.

Herein I teach you how you shall bid God ‘ild us for your pains, and thank us for your trouble;’ and also that Duncan should replace a traitorous Thane of Cawdor that he originally trusted with an even traitorous Thane. Because of this deception and equivocation, we see as the audience that by the end of the play many of the characters that are still alive can’t trust each other. This mistrust begins even when Duncan is killed, and Donalbain says to Malcolm; ‘Where we are, there’s daggers in men’s smiles. Later even in England, when Macduff appeals to Malcolm for his support in a war against Macbeth, but even then, Malcolm is very cautious and after expressing his suspicions, he says, ‘Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell; though all things foul would wear the brows of grace, yet grace must still look so. ’ Malcolm uses the example of Lucifer the ‘brightest angel’ who fell and became Satan. Malcolm is remaking that Macduff’s fair appearance may hide a foul heart, that one who looks like an angel may be a devil.

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As the plot unfolds in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, we see that in the midst of all the other themes presented in the play, one stands out. This theme comes from one of the first lines in the play, ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair. ’ And it permeates throughout the story, generating mistrust through the characters and warning the audience of the deception, ambition and equivocation in the hearts of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. This themes only cements the idea that all is not it seems and that even the fairest face can hide the foulest intentions.

Author: Cari Minns

in Macbeth

Macbeth Themes: Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair

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"Fair is foul and foul is fair" is a theme that suggests how appearances differ from the reality beneath the surface.  A good example of this is how Lady Macbeth schools Macbeth to "look like the innocent flower/But be the serpent under't."

From the time we first meet her in Act I, scene v, Lady Macbeth is concerned about the goodness in Macbeth that she perceives as weakness.  She wants to alter his natural, honest...

"Fair is foul and foul is fair" is a theme that suggests how appearances differ from the reality beneath the surface.  A good example of this is how Lady Macbeth schools Macbeth to "look like the innocent flower/But be the serpent under't."

From the time we first meet her in Act I, scene v, Lady Macbeth is concerned about the goodness in Macbeth that she perceives as weakness.  She wants to alter his natural, honest behaviour to create a two-faced murderer, able to smile and shake Duncan's hand, while simultaneously plotting the King's murder.

When she first suggests the potential that Duncan be murdered in their home, she comments on how easily Macbeth's face gives his true feelings away:

Your face, my thane, is as a book, where men

May read strange matters.  To beguile the time,

Look like the time.

So, Lady Macbeth schools Macbeth in how to appear "fair" while remaining "foul" underneath.

She displays her own skill in this art at the banquet in Act III, scene iv.  Even when she doesn't know exactly what has spooked Macbeth, she strives desperately to put a "fair" face on what is certainly a "foul" moment.  She assures the lords assembled:

Sit, worthy friends.  My lord is often thus...

The fit is momentary.  Upon a thought

He will again be well.

And she condemns his inability to ignore the "foul" (Banquo's ghost) and put on a "fair" face as womanly behaviour:

This is the very painting of your fear.

...O, these flaws and starts,

Impostors to true fear, would well become

A woman's story at a winter's fire....

Why do you make such faces?  When all's done,

You look but on a stool.

Of course, by the end of the play, Lady Macbeth's ability to put a "fair" face on what is "foul" completely breaks down and she dies from her own mad imaginings.

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