I've been tasked with writing a comparative essay about Macbeth and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but I don't understand one of the Macbeth quotes. Can anyone help? The quote is: "So foul and fair...

I've been tasked with writing a comparative essay about Macbeth and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but I don't understand one of the Macbeth quotes. Can anyone help?

The quote is: "So foul and fair a day I have not seen."

Asked on by asparia

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billdelaney's profile pic

William Delaney | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Both Scene 1 and Scene 3 of Act 1 of Macbeth begin with the directions:

Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches.

The weather is certainly foul. Macbeth is speaking literally. This is the worst weather he has ever experienced. He considers the day "fair," however, because it has been so completely successful. Macbeth and Banquo are returning from the fray as great heroes. When Macbeth says "So foul and fair a day I have not seen," he is unconsciously echoing what the three Witches chanted at the very end of Scene 1.

Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

So Macbeth's words seem intended to remind Shakespeare's audience of the strange creatures they saw in the opening scene of the play. This should create a sense of foreboding. In the opening scene they all say in unison:

There to meet with Macbeth.

Macbeth is on top of the world for the moment, but he is on his way to encountering these wicked women, and he is bound to suffer misfortune as a result.

What the Witches mean by "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" has been interpreted in various ways by many different critics. It might be that they are so horrible themselves that they think ugliness is beauty and vice versa. They are wicked and dangerous creatures. They enjoy doing evil deeds. 

However, Macbeth is speaking fairly literally when he says, "So foul and fair a day I have not seen." He is full of pride, joy, and self-confidence. He doesn't mind the bad weather because he has just recently been through much worse things than that.

Sources:

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