“Fair is foul”
“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare is a play in which the central character, Macbeth, is vulnerable as well as heroic. Before Macbeth even appears in the play we learn of his vulnerability through the witches, who plan to meet Macbeth after the day’s battle;
“When shall we three meet again in thunder, lighting or in rain?” “When the hurlyburly’s done, when the battles lost and won.” “That will be ere the set of sun.”
“Where the place?”
“Upon the heath.”
“There to meet with Macbeth.”
When we first get an insight into Macbeth he is a national hero but in time he is swayed by the witches, who plant ideas into his head and by his wife who persuades him to carry out his plans. The development of Macbeth; the words he speaks and the actions he commits, affects how we respond to Macbeth’s final fate. The play opens with three witches and we learn that they plot to corrupt, Macbeth:
“Fair is foul and foul is fair; hover through the fog and filthy air.”
To these three witches what is evil is good and what is good they cannot stand. So, who better to corrupt than “noble Macbeth”? These words spoken by the witches show that Macbeth is vulnerable from the start. To these “secret, black, and midnight hags” corrupting Macbeth is what they do best. Shakespeare also establishes Macbeth’s bravery and heroism within the opening scenes.
“For brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name – disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel, which smoked with bloody execution, like valour’s minion carved out his passage, till he faced the slave; which ne’er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him, till he unseamed him from the nave to the chops, and fixed his head upon our battlements.”
This is our first insight into Macbeth’s character. Macbeth’s heroism is greatly established within the opening scenes. The captain recalls the battles against the Scottish rebels, from the Highlands and Islands and the foreign invaders, the Norwegians. He tells Duncan how Macbeth and Banquo managed to defeat the rebels and then hold off the Norwegians.
After the battle Macbeth and Banquo are confronted by the witches, and Shakespeare immediately makes a connection between Macbeth and the witches when Macbeth says;
“So foul and fair a day I have not seen”.
The witches go on to greet Macbeth in different ways, the first being;
“All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!”
Macbeth would not have thought anything of this as he was the Thane of Glamis. The second;
“All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!”
From this point on, the witches were giving Macbeth prophecies, as, to his knowledge he was not Thane of Cawdor and “The Thane of Cawdor lives”. And so, the last witch greets Macbeth;
“All hail Macbeth, that shalt be King hereafter!”
Macbeth does not react but Banquo questions the witches as to what will happen to him. They reply by telling him that his sons will be kings, although he will not. After hearing this Macbeth tries to question the witches but they vanish, leaving Banquo and Macbeth to discuss what happened. Shortly after Macbeth gets told that he is now Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth starts to wonder if the third prediction could come true;
“This supernatural soliciting cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill, why hath it given me earnest of success, commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor. If good, why do I yield to that suggestion, whose horrid image doth unfix my hair, and make my seated heart knock my ribs, against the use of nature?
Macbeth pictures himself murdering Duncan, which obviously shows that Macbeth wants to be king and he is already planning Duncan’s murder. He recognises however, that he could not commit the act itself so he decides to let it take care of itself.
When Duncan names his successor as his son, Malcolm, Macbeth realises that he will not become king by playing by the rules. He decides he will...
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