From Macbeth, contrast Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. How were they before and how are they afterwards? How does “fair” become “foul” in the play and “foul” become “fair”? Please use...

From Macbeth, contrast Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. How were they before and how are they afterwards?

How does “fair” become “foul” in the play and “foul” become “fair”?

Please use examples from the book. Thank you. I have a three page essay due but I'm kind of stuck.

Expert Answers
durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Macbeth, there is a marked change in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth after Duncan's murder. Lady Macbeth drives their cause initially because, as she says in Act I, scene V, "Yet do I fear thy nature; it is too full of the milk of human kindness" (13-14). She is concerned that Macbeth is not bold or treacherous enough, despite his ambition, to ensure that the witches' prophecy is fulfilled. She plans it from that moment and sees opportunity in Duncan's impending visit. She wants to ensure that she prepares herself well by removing all sense of emotion by having the spirits  "unsex" her, leaving only the ability to carry out Duncan's murder with no remorse. Macbeth's plans, on the other hand, are vague and based on imaginings and what he calls his "black and deep desires" (I.iv.51). 

Already, something "fair" — Macbeth's new title awarded for courage on the battlefield — is turning into something "foul" as both he and Lady Macbeth desire far more than Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth is impatient to see the witches' prophecies fulfilled and Thane of Cawdor already seems like a poor alternative, however temporary. Lady Macbeth does not want to leave anything to chance or fate in case Macbeth cannot ultimately deliver.  

Macbeth still worries about the consequences of their potential actions, having had time to reflect and recognize his own "vaulting ambition," (I.vii.27) as a factor in their decision to kill Duncan. He is prepared to drop all thought of it but Lady Macbeth, after reflection, is even more determined to carry out the murder. She even insults Macbeth's manhood so that he will stick with the plan. 

After the murder, Macbeth is disoriented but he knows he has done a terrible thing and wishes he could undo his actions; as he says, "Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thy couldst!" (II.ii.73) Lady Macbeth, however, is more irritated with the fact that Macbeth did not stick to the plan, especially as, by bringing the daggers, he could expose them. She is determined that nothing should go wrong and, in sharp contrast to Macbeth, she feels nothing for Duncan. She is content with the thought that, "A little water clears us of this deed" (67). It is important to note that the change in Macbeth has already begun as he has murdered Duncan's attendants as well which was not part of the plan. He will continue his killing spree — another example of the fair becoming foul as Macbeth himself is transforming from a loyal and dutiful soldier into a soulless, self-absorbed killing machine.

The change in Lady Macbeth begins when Macbeth talks vaguely of his plans for Banquo and she urges him not to do anything. Macbeth is now the one apparently in control and expects that she will be pleased with the outcome and "applaud the deed" (III.ii.46). Lady Macbeth continues to cover for him after he kills Banquo when he is haunted by Banquo's ghost. However, now Macbeth needs the witches' confirmation, not his wife's. Even the witches recognize Macbeth's betrayal when they note, in Act IV, scene i, "Something wicked this way comes" (45).

There is also a brief example of the foul and fair analogy when Malcolm, fearing MacDuff's treachery, pretends to be far worse than Macbeth (Act IV, scene iii) and is seemingly "foul," but, once he is sure of MacDuff's allegiance, he admits that he, "delight[s] no less in truth than life," (130) so is truly "fair."

Lady Macbeth has changed completely by Act V, scene i. Her doctor admits that there is no natural way to cure her and that only something "divine" (72) could save her. Macbeth pays little attention to the news of her death, feeling melancholy but still resolute in his plan to become king at all costs. This is quite different from the beginning when Macbeth questioned their intentions and Lady Macbeth was unyielding; now, despite the odds stacked against him and his wife's death, he proceeds. Lady Macbeth, the example of the foul and dark side of their relationship, is no longer and Macbeth, a fair warrior, is a senseless murderer. As Macbeth is killed and peace is assured, the foul and fair analogy is resolved in the last lines of Act V, scene viii.