Discuss the ways in which some characters are false, and others fair, in the play Macbeth.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the question seems to indicate that characters named must be either false or fair, perhaps naming those who are both false and fair can first be done in order to eliminate them.


When Macbeth remarks, "So foul and fair a day I have not seen," this rhetorical device, chiasmus, in which the order of words in one clause is inverted in the other, becomes a motif of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Macbeth and his wife Lady Macbeth move from being brave, fair, loyal, and loving people to rapacious and murderous characters. So, for the largest part of the drama, they are false as they conspire to attain the heights in their kingdom. In a despicable crime, one against the Elizabethan Chain of Being as well as the heart of man, Macbeth murders his own cousin, the good King Duncan because his "vaulting ambition" drives him to the acquisition of power. Of course, his wife has catapulted him into this act with her having "unsexed" herself and threatened his manhood.

Another character who plays both roles of fair and foul is Malcolm, the son of King Duncan. However, he plays foul only to test the loyalties of Macduff, who comes to England. Malcolm is naturally suspicious that Macduff may be an agent of the treacherous Macbeth and questions him as to why he left Scotland when his wife and children are now unprotected. Feigning cupidity and lust for women, Malcolm describes a villain. When Macduff utters a cry of despair for Scotland, Malcolm is satisfied that Macduff's intentions are honorable and pledges to fight for the crown and kill the evil Macbeth.



  • Angus - A Scottish nobleman, Angus bestows upon Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor as a reward for his bravery in battle. He reappears in the final act in the battle against Macbeth to restore dignity to Scotland.
  • Ross - Also a loyal soldier of Scotland.
  • Lennox - Another nobleman, who prays that a "holy angel/Fly to the court of England and unfold/His message" (3.7) so his suffering country will be saved for the "accursed hand" of Macbeth.
  • Macduff - A nobleman who is devastated upon discovering that Duncan is dead. He later risks the safety of his family to seek Malcolm in England and persuade him to return to Scotland to claim the throne from the tyrant Macbeth.
  • Macduff's son - When the murderer calls Macduff a traitor, despite what his mother has said, the boy defends his father's honor.
  • Banquo - A friend of Macbeth, Banquo warns against listening to the predictions of the witches: "And oftentimes to win us to our harm/The instruments of darkness tell us truths/Win us with honest trifles to betray..." (1.3.132-134).
  • King Duncan - A just and honest king, even described by Macbeth as virtuous and meek, he is completely unsuspecting of Macbeth when he arrives at Inverness Castle.
  • Donalbain - A son of Duncan, he suggests to his brother that they flee to England, but he does not join Malcolm in the battle to restore the crown to his family.
  • Siward - General of the English forces that help restore Scotland to Malcolm, he bravely enters the battle.
  • Cathness - another rebel who fights against Macbeth.


  • The "three sisters" - delighting in wreaking havoc with human lives, they discuss their chicaneries, laughing at the misfortunes wrought upon people such as sailors.
  • Macbeth's henchmen/three Murderers - They perform the murders ordered by Macbeth without any qualms.
  • Lady Macduff - She worries for her son after her husband departs for England, saying "His flight was madness." She also tells her son that his father is a traitor in her lack of faith in Macduff.
  • Doctor - He tries to treat Lady Macbeth's madness, but cannot.
  • Gentlewoman - She cares for Lady Macbeth.