In the tragedy, Macbeth by William Shakespeare, the paradoxical theme of “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” functions throughout the play. The line is a prophecy which one thing seems like another. It implies especially to the characters that they are not as they seem to be.
The Three Witches are the ones who introduce the paradox that runs throughout the play. The theme affects these characters because although they speak of the future, they do not seem to affect the course of it. They are the agents of fate because they only speak of the truth of what will happen. Macbeth refers to the Witches as the Weird Sisters. In fact the word “Weird” comes from an old English word “wyrd,” which means “fate.” In Macbeth’s case, the prophecies serve only to suggest the future, not to affect it. They do not predict that he will commit murder to become king but only that he will become king.For example, they all hail Macbeth as king by saying, “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” Even if the witches were extant, Macbeth would have somehow become king because of fate. With the Witches, Banquo has just the opposite case because he did not actively act upon their prediction that he will be the father of kings. Despite his inaction, the prophecy becames true. The Witches themselves are corporally a paradox because of their ambiguous and confusing appearance. Banquo describes the Witches’ appearance to Macbeth by saying, “So withered, and so wild in their attire, That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ earth And yet are on ‘t?… You should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret That you are so.” Macbeth also remarks that they “seem’d corporal” and yet they vanish like “bubbles into the air.”
The paradoxical theme affects Macbeth’s by turning his life upside down. Macbeth is not the person he is as he seems. He is introduced as a warrior hero, whose fame in the battlefield wins him the honor from King Duncan. However, his ambitions are made clear when he reveals his inner emotions and thoughts. One example is when Macbeth says, “I am settle and bend up Each corporal agent to this terrible feat. Away, and mock the time with fairest show. False face must hide what the false heart doth know.” Macbeth knows that the act of killing Duncan is morally wrong and even agonizes over the idea of killing someone who loves him as much as Duncan does, yet decides that he will do it anyway. Macbeth does not like the fact that Duncan intends to pass the crown to his son Malcolm. The blindness of the Duncan shows when he says, “To find the mind’s construction in the face. He was a gentleman on whom I built An absolute trust,” he greets Macbeth as his “worthiest cousin.” The effect the paradox has on Macbeth is ultimately his death. When the Witches prophesize that no man born from a woman’s womb can defeat him, he feels invincible. However, Macbeth does not realize that Macduff was born unnaturally. Paradoxically, the more power as king Macbeth had, the more villainous be became.
Lady Macbeth is affected from the theme as well as Macbeth is. She thought that becoming Queen would make her happier but she later feels that life is not worth living. She says, “Naught’s had, all’s spent, Where our desire is got without content. ‘Tis safer to be that which we destroy Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy.” After murdering Duncan and becoming Queen, she wants to have her old life back or die than to be where she is. Because of her burning ambition to be Queen, her life is ruined. Lady Macbeth constantly taunts her husband for his lack of courage and that he is “too full o’ th’ milk.” But in public, she is able to act nicely as a skilled and superior person. She later is unable to bear the events and has become a victim of nightmares and hallucinations. The guilt that she has that she becomes insane. When Lady Macbeth expected to have a fair life after killing Duncan, her foul soul went to hell.
Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have both been affected by the paradoxical theme brought by the Witches. The theme of things not being as they seem to be are true has applied to both of these characters. The Witches are only able to tell the future and not change it, Macbeth acted upon it, and Lady Macbeth became insane from her ambitions of being fair.