Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair
“Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair”, this oft-quoted line uttered by the Witches occurs in the Opening Scene of Macbeth by William Shakespeare (Act 1, Scene 1, Line 11) and strikes the keynote of the entire drama, Macbeth.
The witches are personified forces of disorder and conflict. They meet in thunder and lightning in a desert place and hover through the fog and filthy air. They speak in enigmatic language. They resolve to meet again on the heath when the battle is lost and won. They choose to meet and move in thunder, lightning and rain. The weather that would be foul to others will be fair to them.
The words uttered by the witches anticipate the overturning of values by unnatural acts which is one of the major themes of the play. They are the lawless of human nature’ (Coleridge’s phrase). Evil is their good. Their parting words indicate the special character of the play right from the beginning. They introduce us to a topsy-turvy world where values are perverted and reversed. The Macbeth world is a strange one where “Good things of day begin to droop and drowse” and “night’s black agents to their preys do rouse“.
“Foul and fair” are the first words spoken in the play by Macbeth (I. ii. 38). The echo establishes an unconscious kinship with the witches and is dramatically effective, anticipating the blurring of good and evil in Macbeth’s mind.
What is fair to men is foul to the Witches or the evil person and vice-versa. The Witches delighted in the reversal of values. They belong to the world of darkness and mischief (the world of Satan). They symbolize forces opposite to the moral order presided over by God. Coleridge remarked that the two lines strike the keynote not simply of the character of the Witches but of the whole play as well. The Witches are “the lawless of human nature”. Evil is their good just as Satan says:
“Evil be thou my good.”