As one of the very first lines of Macbeth by William Shakespeare makes clear, “Fair is foul and foul is fair”(I, i, 12-13). Contradictions exist throughout the play in numerous motifs and symbols, including birds. What birds represent in literature varies; they can mean a journey, freedom, positive omen, and everything humans quest to understand. In Macbeth they can mean different things depending on the kind of bird, one sees less menacing birds appear around the mention of children, and birds of prey are referred to around the time of bad tidings. Although birds may be interpreted as symbols of freedom and innocence, their roles in Macbeth are often the harbingers of death and destruction, as lady Macbeth sees the raven under her battlements, and an obscure bird shrieks the whole night of Duncan’s murder. Thus they come to embody and symbolize death and destruction.
Birds that are not predators symbolize innocence, more specifically childhood. One could say that fowl are fair. Lady Macduff is aghast when she hears the news about her husband leaving Scotland. She tells her son that his father is dead, and asks what he will do. He replies he will live “as birds do, mother”(IV.ii.32). Lady Macduff then comments that he will not fear any kinds of traps, like an innocent bird unaware of its predators and trappers. Banquo and his son Fleance are on their way to Macbeth’s castle for a feast when a group of three murderers ambush the two. While Banquo tries to fend them off he exclaims, “Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly”(III, iii, 17). What he says obviously compares Fleance to a bird, telling him to fly and be free from violence, thus innocent. When Macduff hears about the news of Macbeth killing his “pretty chickens and their dam, At one fell swoop”(IV, iii, 224-225), he calls Macbeth a “hell-kite”(IV, iii, 223). These lines are very dense when it comes to the symbolism of birds in Macbeth. One line establishes birds as horrible things capable of