“Fair is foul, and foul is fair” is a famous line from William Shakespeare’s play “Macbeth.” Spoken by the three witches at the beginning of the play, this paradoxical statement serves as a central theme and a harbinger of the moral ambiguity and deception that will unfold throughout the tragedy. In this article, we will delve into the analysis of “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” to understand its significance, implications, and how it sets the tone for the entire play.

1. Paradox and Deception:

The line “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” encapsulates a paradox, a statement that appears contradictory but may reveal a hidden truth. It suggests that what appears good or fair on the surface may be deceptive and contain elements of foulness or evil. Conversely, what appears foul may hold elements of fairness or virtue. This paradoxical nature sets the tone for the play, emphasizing the theme of deception and moral ambiguity.

2. The Witches’ Prophecy:

The line is spoken by the three witches in the opening scene of “Macbeth.” The witches are supernatural beings who possess the power of prophecy and manipulation. They set the stage for the entire plot by announcing their intention to meet with Macbeth and influence his destiny. The paradoxical statement reflects their deceptive and enigmatic nature, as well as their ability to blur the boundaries between good and evil.

3. Moral Ambiguity:

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair” highlights the moral ambiguity that permeates the play. Macbeth himself is a complex character who grapples with his ambition and conscience. He begins as a loyal and honorable soldier but is gradually consumed by greed and power. The witches’ prophecy and their paradoxical statement push Macbeth into a moral gray area, where right and wrong become increasingly difficult to distinguish.

4. Foreshadowing:

The line serves as foreshadowing for the events that will unfold in the play. It warns the audience that things are not as they seem and that appearances can be deceiving. This foreshadowing creates a sense of foreboding and tension, as the audience anticipates the moral and psychological challenges that the characters will face.

5. Macbeth’s Ambition:

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair” is a reflection of Macbeth’s ambition. At the start of the play, Macbeth is a valiant and loyal warrior, but his ambition for power and the throne leads him down a treacherous path. The line suggests that Macbeth’s desire for greatness may ultimately lead to his downfall. It also hints at the idea that Macbeth’s pursuit of power will involve moral compromises and unethical actions.

6. The Corruption of Power:

The paradoxical statement foreshadows the corrupting influence of power, a central theme in “Macbeth.” As the characters vie for power and position, they become entangled in a web of deception, treachery, and violence. The line suggests that the pursuit of power can distort one’s sense of right and wrong, blurring the boundaries between fair and foul.

7. The Theme of Appearance vs. Reality:

“Fair is foul, and foul is fair” underscores the theme of appearance versus reality. Throughout the play, characters and situations are not what they initially seem. Deception and disguise are prevalent, and the line serves as a constant reminder that appearances can be misleading. This theme is particularly evident in the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, who hide their true intentions behind a façade of loyalty and innocence.

8. Macbeth’s Tragic Downfall:

The paradox also reflects the tragic nature of Macbeth’s character. His ambition, coupled with the witches’ prophecy and their paradoxical statement, sets in motion a series of events that lead to his ultimate downfall. As Macbeth descends into madness and becomes increasingly ruthless, the line serves as a constant reminder of the moral chaos that surrounds him.

9. The Supernatural Element:

“Macbeth” is a play that incorporates elements of the supernatural, including the witches and their prophecies. The paradoxical statement “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” aligns with the mystical and mysterious nature of the witches, who exist outside the realm of conventional morality. It emphasizes the otherworldly and eerie atmosphere of the play.

10. The Transformation of Characters:

As the play progresses, several characters undergo significant transformations. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, in particular, are profoundly changed by their actions and ambitions. The paradoxical statement “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” reflects the theme of transformation and how characters evolve as they grapple with their desires and moral choices.


“Fair is foul, and foul is fair” is a pivotal line in William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” that sets the stage for the moral complexity, deception, and ambiguity that define the play. It foreshadows the characters’ transformations, the corrupting influence of power, and the theme of appearance versus reality. As the audience navigates the treacherous journey of Macbeth and his descent into darkness, this paradoxical statement serves as a constant reminder that in the world of the play, nothing is as it seems, and the line between good and evil is often blurred.