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How Does Macbeth turn from fair to foul?
In the play ‘Macbeth’, the words ‘fair’ and ‘foul’ appear many times.
These words are used by the witches and these words symbolise good and
evil. These witches will play a game which will turn Macbeth from good
In the first scene of the first act, three witches plan their next
meeting in which they will encounter Macbeth. It is in this scene that
the motif is first presented and it sets the scene for the rest of the
play, as the three witches chant, ‘fair is foul, and foul is fair,
hover through the fog and filthy air’. The witches meet again in scene
three of act one. One of the witches discusses a curse she has placed
on a woman’s husband who she refused to share her food. This display
of evil supernatural powers and spitefulness suggests that the witches
may have some influence on the development of the motif.
Macbeth enters this scene along with Banquo, arriving from a
victorious battle. He uses the motif to describe the day, ‘so foul and
fair a day I have not seen’. Macbeth repeats the words which were
already used by the witches earlier on in this scene, and he does this
to emphasise the link the witches now have with Macbeth. It is almost
as if the witches have control over Macbeth’s soul. Macbeth and Banquo
simultaneously encounter the witches and Macbeth is immediately
fascinated about the witches, whereas Banquo doesn’t seem at all
connected to the witches. This shows that the evil has possessed
Macbeth. They give Macbeth two predictions. One is that he will become
Thane of Cawdor and the other is that he will be the king of Scotland.
‘All hail Macbeth! That shalt be king hereafter’. Macbeth is shocked
at these predictions.
Shortly afterwards Ross and Angus bring news to Macbeth that he is
Thane of Cawdor. Ross says,
‘And for an earnest of a greater honour, He bade me, from him, call
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With this news, Macbeth reconsiders what the witches had said,
‘Glamis, and Thane of Cawdor. The greatest is behind’.
Straight after this Macbeth immediately begins to plan his methods of
obtaining these positions which if he is to be king then it involves
murdering the king of Scotland. This is an example of what was once
fair, a loyal and brave warrior of Scotland has become foul, an
Act one scene five sees Macbeth and Lady Macbeth planning to kill
Duncan who is the king of Scotland.
On line fifteen, Lady Macbeth is talking about Macbeth, ‘Yet do I fear
thy nature; It is too full o’ the milk of human kindness, To catch the
nearest way’. Lady Macbeth feels that Macbeth is too good to murder
Duncan. She goes on and says to spirits, ‘unsex me here and fill me
from the crown to the toe top full of direst cruelty’. She wants to be
cruel like the witches so she can carry out the wicked, evil plans to
Macbeth arrives later and Lady Macbeth says, ‘ look like the innocent
flower, But be the serpent under’t’. She is telling Macbeth how to
conduct the murder; she is persuading him to go through with it and
not change his mind.
In scene seven of the first act, Macbeth starts off with his big
soliloquy. He prepares for murder. He knows it is a great sin but Lady
Macbeth forces him to go through with it and kill Duncan. Macbeth is
trying to change his own mind about the murder of Duncan. He comes up
with reasons not to kill Duncan as well as reasons to kill him. Later
in this scene Duncan is murdered. Macbeth has now become foul or evil.
Macbeth becomes more and more foul as he is now planning the murder of
Banquo. He hires three murderers to kill his ‘friend’ Banquo in order
to prevent any threat or opposition to Macbeth’s reign.
In the beginning of scene one of act three, Banquo starts off by
saying, ‘Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all, as the weird
women promis’d: and I fear, thou play’dst most foully for’t’. Banquo
suspects Macbeth killed Duncan. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth enter this
scene as king and queen for the first time. All but Macbeth exit the
scene and Macbeth starts plotting the second murder which is of Banquo
and Fleance. The word ‘foul’ is now strongly being associated with
In scene three of act three Banquo is murdered by the three murderers
but Fleance escapes.
In her first appearances, Lady Macbeth is presented as an ambitiously
evil and foul character that will do whatever it takes to get what she
wants. We can see this motivation when she says, ‘How tender tis to
love the babe that milks me; I would, while it was smiling in my face
have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums, and dashed the brains
out’, in scene six of act one. In these lines, Lady Macbeth threatens
that she would smash her baby’s head if it meant achieving their
goals. After killing Duncan and becoming queen, she realises her
mistakes and is driven mentally ill by it. In her case, she has gone
from what was once foul, to become fair – so this is ironic.
Macbeth has believed every thing the witches have said and they have
led him to the foul or evil side. Macbeth has replaced his belief in
God with a belief in them. Near the end of the play, just when he is
about to die, he says, ‘And be these juggling fiends no more
believ’d’, this is ironic because he does listen to them when he is
alive but he doesn’t when he is about to die.
Throughout the play, Macbeth, the general mood is one of deceit and
betrayal. There is lots of positive diction in the beginning but then
there is suddenly more negative diction such as ‘fear’, ‘killed’ and
‘cruelty’. What appears to be fair is foul.