Macbeth Act 1 Scene 1 - Notes
Macbeth Act 1 Scene 1 - Quotes & Explanations:
Fair is foul, and foul is fair;
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
Why it’s important
This quote is extremely important because it introduces the themes of Deception and Reality vs Perception into the play. As you read on, you’ll learn that much of this play is about different characters being deceived into believing that their versions of reality are accurate depictions of the world, only to find out that they were seeing things through too narrow a lens.
Symbolism, themes, and motifs related to this quote
The “fog" and “filthy air" act as a signifier that our judgments, as an audience, as well as the judgment of the various characters in the play may be clouded. Many of Shakespeare’s tragedies speak to the consequences of straying from a pre-defined notion of the natural order of things
Macbeth Act 1 Scene 1 - Symbols
We’ve already mentioned the fog/filthy air acting as a symbol or metaphor for clouded judgment, but there are other symbols in this scene that can help us analyze how this scene speaks to the rest of the play. Remember, the setting or environment of the scene can sometimes be just as influential to the scene as the characters themselves. In this case, the dark and moody scene sets a tone of darkness and evil associated with the witches. As the first scene of the play, it’s a pretty powerful message telling us, the audience, that there’s at least one plot line (or story arc) in this play that’s supernatural/unnatural, dark, and generally evil.
Contextual Info: “Foul is fair and fair is foul"
- The opening scene of the play often paints broad strokes in forecasting the mood of the play. In this case, the scene is really dark, moody, and more than a little spooky.
- Three witches, or the “weird" sisters (from Old English, “wyrd," which means fate or destiny), begin the play, rhythmically chanting some things that sound like nonsense at first, but eventually come together to form some meaning
- Of the witches lines in this short scene, the most impactful (and repeated many times throughout the play) is:
Fair is foul, and foul is fair
- In addition to this, they say they’re going to meet with someone named Macbeth (that’s the name of the play, no?)
- In addition to their strange appearance and the spooky setting of the scene, we’re also introduced to Graymalkin and Paddock, the witches’ “familiars," or animals that carry out the wills of the witches - more like animal slaves than pets
Are the line numbers different in your book? Here’s why:
There are many different versions of Shakespeare’s works throughout the world, and different versions sometimes interpret dialogue line numbers differently. At Nerdstudy, we follow the Folger version of Shakespeare’s works, which may be different from the version you are using. Always make sure that you refer to your instructor’s recommendations about which version of the play you’re using in class and whether they will grade you based on accuracy of line numbers for essays, tests, and assignments. Folger Digital Texts is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported license.