The first words Macbeth utters in Shakespeare's Macbeth echo a line already spoken by the witches. What effect does Shakespeare create through this device?

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Macbeth, the tragic hero in William Shakespeare's Macbeth, first speaks in act one, scene three. His first line, "So foul and fair a day I have not seen," repeats the same paradox created by the witches in scene one of the same act: "Fair is foul, and foul is fair." 

Through this, Shakespeare illuminates two distinct ideas. First, the phrase proves that something which seems to be one thing can, most certainly, be something very different. Secondly, Shakespeare is illustrating the parallel readers will find between Macbeth and the witches.

Historically, witches have been stereotyped as evil and dark. Through creating a parallel between Macbeth and the witches, Shakespeare foreshadows Macbeth's evil to come. Ironically, Macbeth, by the end of the play, proves to be the one many find to be far more evil than the witches.

Therefore, when speaking of rhetorical/poetic devices, Shakespeare links the use of the paradox to foreshadowing. The repetition of the phrase simply highlights the idea that some things are not always as they seem (highlighted by the fact that Duncan believes Macbeth to be an upstanding man).


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