In Act 1 of Macbeth, the character Macbeth calls the day of the battle "foul and fair." What does he mean by this?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare is certainly throwing something very interesting to the reader as Macbeth speaks this, his first line of the play: "So foul and fair a day I have not seen" (1.2.40).  The most obvious reason why Macbeth says this is because this is the day that Macbeth was victorious in battle through the defeat of Macdonwald;however, Macbeth arrives on the scene to see these old and strange witches gaping at him.  I'm sure that, as a man who may expect to revel in his victory on that night, these witches are not the welcoming party Macbeth wished to see!  Furthermore, Macbeth's first line also echos a previous line stated by the witches themselves in the very first scene:

Fair is foul, and foul is fair. / Hover through the fog and filthy air.  (1.1.13-14)

In my opinion, Macbeth's repetition of those words serves as foreshadowing in regards to their future relationship.  The witches, of course, are the beings that first put the idea into Macbeth's mind about killing Duncan in order to gain his position as king.  It seems that Macbeth and the witches share more than they know, even before they actually converse.