Fair Is Foul And Foul Is Fair

  • Category: English
  • Words: 1050
  • Grade: 90
"FAIR IS FOUL AND FOUL IS FAIR" AS A THEME IN MACBETH
The concept of "Fair is foul and foul is fair" is used throughout Macbeth in many forms. This theme of reversal is heavily reflected in both the characters and events of Macbeth and therefore is the central theme. The first notable example is when the witches introduce the broad application of this concept to us in the first scene. Duncan provides an example of this theme in inter-character relations when he speaks of his relationship with Macbeth. An example of the reversal theme in specific examples of action can be found in Act 3 where Banquo was murdered which was fair but Fleance escaped, which was foul. The final example of the reversal theme was when Ross was responding to Malcom's statement that Siward was preparing to attack Macbeth. All of these examples will illustrate that the reversal theme is predominant in Macbeth.
The reversal theme is apparent even when looking at the plot structure of Macbeth in a very general way. A specific example which illustrates the broad application of this theme is in the very first scene of the play where the witches are having a discussion about how they are going to disrupt the life of Macbeth after which they say, "Fair is foul and foul is fair./Hover through the fog and filthy air." This passage is in reference to the general theme of the play. The witches help to create this theme through their influence upon Macbeth. They cause him to gain the crown which is fair, however, they also cause him to gain and preserve his power through murder and deception which is foul. This example shows the use of the reversal theme in the broad spectrum of the plot.
The reversal theme is also very apparent in the inter-personal relationships of characters. An example of this is when Duncan was talking to Macbeth and Banquo and promised them great things: "I have begun to plant thee and will labor/To make thee full of growing." This means that Duncan really likes Macbeth and would like to help him. He also refers to Macbeth as "O worthiest cousin!" again showing that he really trusts and admires Macbeth. Duncan's appreciation of Macbeth would be considered fair. A few lines later, though, Duncan grants the title of Prince of Cumberland to Malcolm thus angering Macbeth to the point where he wants to kill Duncan and take the crown for himself which is foul. This example illustrates the existence of the reversal theme in the relationships of the characters and further establishes "Fair is foul and foul is fair" as a central theme of Macbeth.
Reversal also occurs in some of the action in Macbeth. A specific example of the "Fair is foul and foul is fair" theme in action was the murder of Banquo. We learn of the events of Banquo's murder when the first Murderer enters the banquet hall at Macbeth's castle and says, "My lord, his (Banquo's) throat is cut. That I did for him." After Macbeth replies he adds, "Most royal sir, Fleance is scaped." This passage means that Banquo has been murdered but Fleance escaped from the murderers. Because the protagonist in this play is Macbeth we would look at Banquo's murder as fair even though he was innocent. In the same manner we would see Fleance's escape as foul because he has the potential to gain the crown. This is an example of the reversal theme showing itself in the action of the characters.
An example of the reversal theme within someone's character was when Macduff was speaking to Malcolm in Act 4 Scene 3. Malcolm had just said to Macduff that:
It is myself I mean, in whom I know
All the particulars of vice so grafted
That, when they shall be opened, black Macbeth
Will seem as pure as snow, and the poor state
Esteem him as a lamb, being compared
With my confineless harms.

This creates the image of Malcolm being a somewhat unsavory character with no morals or values. This is not the type of person you want to be king. Then Malcolm contradicts what he had just said and maintains that he is actually honest and good:
I am yet unknown to woman, never was forsworn,
Scarcely have coveted what was mine own,
At no time broke my faith, would not betray
The devil to his fellow, and delight
No less in truth than in life"¦..
Old Siward with ten-thousand war-like men,
Already at a point, was setting forth.

He also says that Old Siward has an army of ten-thousand men ready to attack Macbeth's fortifications at Dunsinane. Needless to say Macduff is bewildered. He says, "Such welcome and unwelcome things at once/'Tis hard to reconcile" meaning that he has received such fair and foul news at once that he is very confused. This is a good example of the "Fair is foul and foul is fair theme" at work within a character's own mind.
The central theme of Macbeth is the reversal theme which deals with reversals in the fortunes of characters and causes confusion. The reversal theme exists in a broad sense throughout the entire play through Macbeth's conquest of the crown and his ensuing downfall. This theme also occurs in inter-character relations as evidenced by King Duncan's opinion of Macbeth. "Fair is foul and foul is fair" was established as a theme within some character's actions, for example, Fleance's escape after Banquo's murder. The reversal theme also occurs in character revelation as was shown by Macduff's confusion after speaking with Malcolm. The "fair is foul and foul is fair" theme deals with humanity's habit to perceive something one way when it is precisely the opposite. Shakespeare's insight into human character allowed him to identify this aspect of mankind and highlight it within this brilliant testimony to our greatest flaws, which allows us, just for a moment, to experience the !
human psyche to the same depth.
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