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The play Macbeth is a historically popular play, with many different themes such iambic pentameter, equivocation, prophetic fallacy, imagery and tones. The statement ‘fair is foul, and foul is fair’ will be discussed and analysed to see how it is reflected throughout the play. As well as Implicit and explicit meanings will be discussed about characters and objects, to see how they contrast with the statement. Then evaluating the structure, language and style of how the play is written, allowing opinions to be given and supported by evidence.
Shakespeare begins the play with the introduction of the witches. They can only be described as ambiguous creatures and questionably human. They create an image of mystery and evil: they will meet ‘When the battle is lost and won’ (1:1:4), a weird and contradicting statement which resembles their personalities and values. The witches express their evil with their chant and the final couplet, ‘Fair is foul, and foul is fair’ (1:1:9), this statement violates God’s natural order, because good is bad and bad is good.
The witches also give the image of evil by the way they dress and act. They are dressed in black robes and constantly circling each other as they talk and speak in weird rhymes and tones; also the sky is always dark and thunderous when they are present, which is the theme pathetic fallacy. Pathetic fallacy means the attributes of human emotions or characteristics relate to nature. Therefore the thunder and lightning that occur when the witches appear symbolizes they are evil, scary and violent. This runs throughout the play using light and the weather to contrast feelings and emotions of characters, the mood of the moment, as light being seen as ‘fair’ and the dark being seen as ‘foul’.
Scene 2 evaporates the shadowy world of the witches from scene one to a physical and masculine world of honour and strength, it’s travelled from ‘foul’ to ‘fair’. Macbeth doesn’t become visible yet, however the Captain and Ross begin describing and personifying him: ‘Disdaining fortune’ (1:2:17), which means unafraid of his own safety, ‘Valour’s minion’ (1:2:19); this gives him the image of a respectable and epic hero; he is a ‘fair’ warrior. At this point in the play Macbeth is completely in control of himself, a well regarded man and metaphorically a walking God as he is described as, ‘Bellona’s bridegroom’ (1:2:56), a fit husband for the roman Goddess of war.
Macbeth and his loyal friend Banquo who is also a highly respectable man encounter the witches. Macbeth states just before they come across the witches, ‘So foul and fair a day I have not seen’ (1:3:36), this statement echo’s the witches. Macbeth is stating the weather that it’s one of those days where fog is followed by sunshine, then a thunderstorm and some hail and more sunshine, all use of prophetic fallacy to create and weird and unsettling image. When the witches are seen, Banquo questions their look, ‘That look not like th’inhabitaints o’th’earth and yet are on’t?’ (1:3:39-40), clearly Banquo notices the appearance of the witches, he knows that something weird is happening and can’t trust what they say, therefore the feeling from Banquo is pessimistic of the witches and also he acknowledges things not being what they seem.
The witches predict to Macbeth and Banquo the future, divulging in information that will turn Macbeth from ‘Fair’ to ‘Foul’. Macbeth is more intrigued, even though Banquo warns Macbeth by saying, ‘instruments of darkness’ (1:3:123), Macbeth ignores the warning from his friend and is still ambitious on finding more information. Macbeth is beginning to act ‘foul’ as he is selfish and demands more from the witches. By using dramatic irony the audience knows that these witches are plotting something evil, which can only lead to a disaster. Whereas Banquo is ‘fair’ knowing the witches are untrustworthy, however he still wants to know their predictions, which is important to his fate, because he also knows the predictions. As the witch’s prophecies are told, it is revealed that Macbeth will be thane of Cawdor and King, Macbeth is shocked by this news. Banquo begins by saying, ‘why do you start and seem to fear things that do sound fair?'(1:3:50), the use of ‘fair’ means good, he is saying to Macbeth, why be fearful of these predictions? Maybe Macbeth isn’t fearful of these predictions but perhaps already plotting to become king. But Banquo is unhappy that he has not been spoken about, he quizzes the witches, ‘Speak then to me, who neither beg nor fear’ (1:3:58), when the witches tell Banquo his sons will be king, there is no impression of him being happy with this, instead he says ‘insane root’ (1:3:82), which means that they have taken something to make them go insane and doesn’t believe that what happened is real. The biblical reference here is that Banquo says, ‘What? Can the devil speak true?’ the witches are being compared to the worst thing possible the devil who is at the bottom of the chain of being; this is giving the real image of how equivocating the witches are, misleading and liars. This statement is also a realization that their predictions are becoming real.
A soliloquy is monologue spoken from a character that is alone on stage. The character reveals their inner thoughts and feelings to the audience. It is a useful theme, to understand what the character is thinking. Macbeth’s Soliloquy begins, ‘Two truths are told’ (1:3:126), Macbeth has become thane of Cawdor, and is now thinking on how to become king, even with the thought of murder expressed by saying, ‘horrid image’ (1:3:133), and ‘horrible imaginations’ (1:3:137) suggest he is thinking of something horrible and possibly murdering Duncan. The soliloquy is powerful, as now we know what he is thinking and feeling, its dramatic irony, as Banquo doesn’t know what he is thinking, which creates tension. Macbeth says, ‘Cannot be ill, cannot be good’ (1:3:130), ill is ‘foul’ and good is ‘fair’ Macbeth has acknowledged something unnatural is occurring but because he has, ‘earnest of success’, (1:3:131) he is enjoying his new found status and wants more.
Banquo, is a smart character, he is suspicious about Macbeth, ‘thou hast it now, king Cawdor, Glamis, all, as the weird women promised, and I fear thou played’st most foully for’t'(3:1:1-3), Banquo has acknowledged the ‘foul’ of Macbeths action, however the fair is, ‘But that myself should be the root and father of many kings'(3:1:5-6), he allows the witches prophecies to be correct in thinking his sons will be king, which shows he is affected by the witches, but in turn this is good, ‘fair’ as Macbeth’s sons will not be king. However this is also the time where Banquo is fearful of his own safety knowing he maybe a target as Macbeth could try to kill him and Fleance, Banquo’s son, to stop him from being king.
Macbeth writes a letter to Lady Macbeth which is represented as prose. Shakespeare used prose for the lower status characters such as murderers and servants; however he wasn’t afraid to break the rule in letting important characters use it. The letter is entirely appropriate seeing as it is interesting and concise. The letter itself shows love and trust between the relationship of lady Macbeth and Macbeth, Macbeth shows this by saying, ‘my dearest love’ (1:5:56) and ‘my dearest partner of greatest’ (1:5:9-10) this shows that Macbeth trusts and loves her. Although it is never mentioned lady Macbeth showing love for Macbeth. I believe that Shakespeare didn’t include this, because it would make her look weak. Macbeth is unsure on whether he wants to murder Duncan, she begins plotting straight away; this immediately shows her ‘foul’ side. Macbeth says ‘I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent’ (1:7:25-26) which shows his doubts. Lady Macduff has to convince him to do it, by doing so she becomes almost greater than man or even witch like , ‘Hie thee hither, that I may pour my spirits in thine ear’ (1,5:24-5) the word spirit is reflective of the witches. She insults Macbeths man hood by calling him a, ‘coward’ (1:7:43), and ‘beast’ (1:7:47), these comments, are the worst a man could be called by his wife, this would make him feel humiliated. Macbeth, ‘I dare do all that may become man’ (1:7:46), as he loves her, he wants to be a man for her. Lady Macbeth also 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’ (1:7:55-56), This is a massive commitment and promise she is giving to Macbeth, she is so ambitious for Macbeth to kill Duncan she’ll go to the extent of killing her own baby. This statement is a powerful statement, it questions lady Macbeths humanity and sanity, however she does go on to say, ‘had he not resembled my father as he slept, I had done’t’ (2:3:13), when she was being bought up she would have seen her father as a God figure, this is evidence that shows she is ‘fair’. Another moment of humanity and of ‘Fair’, Macduff encounters her as a, ‘Gentle lady’ (2:3:77) therefore she is known as a good wife and is gentle, Macduff believes she can’t handle the news of murder, which is ironic as she had a part to play in his murder. Is Lady Macbeth greedy or ambitious for Macbeth? Does she want to become queen or does she want him to succeed? I believe that deep down they are both greedy and ambitious, however because Macbeth has become Thane of Cawdor and is a true warrior, he should not progress to try and be king as he is not king material. And I also believe that lady Macbeth wants to be queen so she is forcing Macbeth to kill Duncan out of greed, as I believe she is the type of character which strives for power and people to respect and love her, and by coming queen this is how she can get this power, although it is not said.
Duncan is a great and well respected character he also introduces the ‘fair’ and ‘foul’ theme, when he talks about the treachery of the Thane of Cawdor, ‘what he hath lost, noble Macbeth has won.’ (1:2:67) he states that the foul in losing and the fair in wining. The castle where Duncan is killed is described by himself as, ‘This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air nimbly and sweetly recommends itself unto our gentle senses’ this is ironic as it is where he will die. The castle looks ‘fair’ pretty, welcoming but it’s a ‘foul’ place because Duncan and the two guards were killed. Also Banquo’s death was plotted in the castle.
Before the murder of Duncan, Banquo Struggles to sleep and has reminiscence that something is wrong, this could be the affect of the evil witches on him, when he asks Fleance, ‘How goes the night?’ (2:1:1) Fleance replies ‘The moon is down; I have not heard the clock’ (2:1:2). The use of prophetic fallacy is implied to compare the moon to whatever is going on the moon has no part of the evil happenings. Also the imagery when Banquo says, ‘their candles are all out’ (2:1:5), the metaphor of the light has implied that darkness can only mean evil, and the light symbolizes heaven such as God and angels who will not view what is about the happen.
The murder of Duncan, Macbeth see’s the image of a knife floating in front of him, it’s almost he is under a spell being forced to murder Duncan. When Macbeth has murdered Duncan he instantly starts to panic and loses all sense of reality because of the vast crime he has committed in killing a king, who is a god figure to him. He completely transforms straight away, earlier in the play he says ‘jump the life too come’ (1:7:7). But now the word ‘Amen’ (1:7:7) cannot said because he has ultimately killed God, ‘They pluck out mine eyes. Will all great Neptune’s oceans was this blood clean from my hand? No’ (2:3:62-63) Gods oceans will not clean him, which suggest a total state of damnation. This makes him unrecognizable to any one, this is where he has become a man without a soul, a lost man and a foul man, when Macbeth kills Duncan the natural order is altered.
The porter mentions ‘hell-gate’ (2:3:1-2) when there is a knocking at the gate of the castle, this becomes a reality it has become a castle of deception, fear, distrust, and the castle is hell.
The finding of Duncan’s body, Lady Macbeth faints on hearing the news, this is where her witch and masculine role beings to recess she slowly starts becoming insane, sleep walking, this a result in her paying for her foul crimes. I believe the fainting suggests it’s the death of her role.
Macbeth becomes king however Macduff doesn’t attend his ceremony, this is where I believe Macduff has suspicions of Macbeth, he says ‘suborned’ (2:4:24) which means bribed, however he knows that Macbeth killed the guards, therefore begins to wonder what really happened.
Macbeth gets compared as a ‘the devil himself could not pronounce a title more hateful to mine ear’ (5:7:8) by young Siward, suggesting there is hell and ‘foul’ to wherever Macbeth is.
Lady Macduff and Lady Macbeth both run off the stage screaming when their deaths occur, although not seen. The even hand of justice is being applied because lady Macduff was brutally murdered along with her son, she is shown as being murdered foully, however the fact that Macduff who is away getting reinforcements to get rid of Macbeth, which is a good and ‘fair’. Lady Macbeth who kills herself, people are glad she has done so because of the evil and ‘foul’ that she conducted in her part in plotting Duncan’s death, so it’s giving the impression it’s fair and a balanced is restored.
By representing everything natural is good, by using the Burnham wood, which is moving, it gives the impression it’s cleansing and replenishing ‘fair’ reality of nature is cleansing the evil ‘foul’ which is Macbeth.
The final scene brings retribution to Macbeth, Macduff challenges his manhood just like lady Macbeth, which encourages Macbeth to carry on fighting, but he dies courageously, this suggest that Macbeth has returned to his ‘Fair’ heroic status. The tone during the battle scene is that of a happy ending but yet a tragedy recognised by Macbeth. During the battle Macbeth is in his comfort zone, being a warrior and fighting, ‘yet I will try the last’ (5:9:71) he has become what he once was at the beginning. He has travelled from ‘fair’ to ‘foul’ and ‘foul’ to ‘fair’ which is the witches prophecy. During the battle scene, he analysis the witches as ‘juggling fiends’ (7:6:58) knowing they were the reason he did what he did. However he was warned by Banquo but chose not to listen so will pay for it. When Macduff kills Macbeth the natural order is restored.
The theme appearance versus reality, things not being what they seem, human necessary’s and luxuries such as food and sleep is a constant theme throughout the play. Macbeth, ‘sleep no more: Macbeth does murder sleep, innocent sleep’ (2:2:38-9) this is his punishment for his crime a living death, without peace or the ability to rest and sleep. Macbeth becomes jealous of Duncan, ‘in restless ecstasy. Duncan is in his grave resting, ‘after life’s fitful fever, he sleeps well’ (3:2:23-4), Macbeth who is become increasingly insane as time progresses, this is where I believe Macbeth is debating on whether to kill himself and taking the cowardly way out. Macbeth is ‘foul’, for his crime and Duncan is resting, ‘fair’. Then the contrast of food, being an important way of keeping fit and strong, Macbeth says, ‘ere we eat our meal in fear’ (3:2:17), because of the murders he has committed evil and chaos is seeping into his life not letting him live peacefully and enjoying the much needed ideals. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth plot Duncan’s death during Duncan’s feast, but plan to murder him during his sleep. Later in the play Macbeth breaks down during a feast as he sees the ghost of Banquo which again disturbs Macbeth from consuming food. Macbeth has realized his crime, he is paying for it, he becomes dependent on his wife to clear the feast, Shakespeare suggest ‘foul and fair’ with the imagery of food, because Macbeth has committed such a ‘foul’ crime he is denied the ‘fair’ of a good diet.
The imagery of blood runs through the play, Lady Macbeth says, ‘make thick my blood’ (1:5:40) her blood is a natural function of the body, and naturally feeds a man’s capacity for compassion, things she wishes stops. Also rich imagery of clothes misfitting Macbeth, ‘borrowed robes’ (1:3:126) ‘strange garments’ (1:3:145) giving the significance that clothing is powerful and has a hidden meaning, the clothes don’t fit Macbeth suggesting that he should not be in them or have the position the clothes represent, such as the crown, which is too big for his head, meaning it should not be there as it is too big, which makes Macbeth look ridiculous. This creates an image of concealment or disguise, as Macbeth begins to hide behind his clothes of kingship.
Iambic pentameter is the structure of how Shakespeare chose to write the play. It is poetry that doesn’t rhyme and tends to have ten syllables a line. The rhythm of the line comes from the fact that usually every second syllable is emphasised. It’s usually the most important words that get stressed such as nouns, names, verbs and actions. This gives the key ideas more prominence and the meanings more power. An example of this is where Macbeth ask, ‘if we should fail’ (1:7:60) lady Macbeth says, ‘ we fail?’ which could be spoken in many different tones, if spoken flatly suggest what will be will be, but if said loudly and emphasised might sound sarcastic and shock. This theme is also flexible, as some lines only contain four or five syllables, so it is given a space to make up for the time. For example;
‘Macbeth: Two truths are told,
As happy prologues to the swelling act’ (1:3:126-127).
The space is left, so the character knows to wait, to keep up with the beat. It is also used to whatever ever mood Shakespeare is trying to capture in the character. Iambic pentameter relates to foul and fair because when the witches speak they are being speaking quickly because of the syllables, gives the impression of scary and evil.
The theme equivocation which means, concealing the truth, the intention to mislead and also it creates an image of conflict using words such as ‘fair’ and ‘foul’. As well as using words with double meanings. It’s a powerful theme that creates tension, suspense and emotions. Shakespeare’s uses it all through the play, Lady Macbeth during the speech to Macbeth, about killing Duncan, has many equivocating words such, ‘business’ (1:6:66) is a double meaning for murder, ‘dispatch’ (1:6:66) is also another term for murder, she uses these words to not scare Macbeth with direct words as she is unsure on how he would react.
To conclude this discussion I believe that foul and fair is strict role throughout the play, where there is foul there is fair, a constant balance of god and bad. Shakespeare used many themes to create imagery and suspense. I believe that Macbeth’s character was suited to stay as a warrior and not to climax any further, by doing so he suffered for it. Lady Macbeth who remained evil throughout was however a good and strong wife, although suffered for her witch like manner. Macduff is the good guy, although leaving his family alone who got brutally murdered, became the good guy for killing Macbeth.
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