Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair

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Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair

By | May 2001
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In the tragedy, Macbeth by William Shakespeare, the paradoxical theme of "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" functions throughout the play. The line is a prophecy which one thing seems like another. It implies especially to the characters that they are not as they seem to be.

The Three Witches are the ones who introduce the paradox that runs throughout the play. The theme affects these characters because although they speak of the future, they do not seem to affect the course of it. They are the agents of fate because they only speak of the truth of what will happen. Macbeth refers to the Witches as the Weird Sisters. In fact the word "Weird" comes from an old English word "wyrd," which means "fate." In Macbeth's case, the prophecies serve only to suggest the future, not to affect it. They do not predict that he will commit murder to become king but only that he will become king. For example, they all hail Macbeth as king by saying, "All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!" Even if the witches were extant, Macbeth would have somehow become king because of fate. With the Witches, Banquo has just the opposite case because he did not actively act upon their prediction that he will be the father of kings. Despite his inaction, the prophecy becames true. The Witches themselves are corporally a paradox because of their ambiguous and confusing appearance. Banquo describes the Witches' appearance to Macbeth by saying, "So withered, and so wild in their attire, That look not like th' inhabitants o' th' earth And yet are on ‘t?... You should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret That you are so." Macbeth also remarks that they "seem'd corporal" and yet they vanish like "bubbles into the air."

The paradoxical theme affects Macbeth's by turning his life upside down. Macbeth is not the person he is as he seems. He is introduced as a warrior hero, whose fame in the battlefield wins him the honor from King Duncan. However, his...
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