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In Act I, Scene 1, the witches chant “Fair is foul and foul is fair.” The shows that what was once fair will become destructive. The thunderstorm underscores this transition. A once peaceful sky has become turbulent. Macbeth, a once loyal subject, will turn on Duncan.
In Act II, Scene 4, the old man mentions many different events which illustrate that things are out of place. This is the pathetic fallacy. The pathetic fallacy is when nature reflects or empathizes with human destruction, suffering or love. In this case, the old man notes that a falcon was killed by a mousing owl hawk. Ross mentions that the tame horses have gone wild. And in the opening scene of the play, the thunderstorm reflects the witches’ words and foreshadows evil events to come. The old man ends this scene with:
God’s benison go with you, and with those;
That would make good of bad, and friends of foes.
The old man offers God’s blessing to Ross and to those who are behaving in ways that are contrary to their nature. Simply put, Macbeth was loyal and good; now he’s bad. If things are generally going haywire, then anything behaving contrarily, making good of bad or vice-versa, is suspicious.
In Macbeth, Shakespeare frequently uses contradictions and paradoxes to create ambiguity and complexity. Here are some other examples:
- "So from that spring whence comfort seemed to come, discomfort swells." This is taken from Act I, Scene II and appears contradictory since discomfort and comfort cannot logically come from the same place and exist at the same time. It becomes clearer, however, when put into context: the killing of Macdonwald created "comfort" for King Duncan's men but was quickly overshadowed by the threat of Norwegian invasion, which brings "discomfort."
- "Tis safer to be that which we destroy/Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy." In this contradictory statement from Lady Macbeth in Act III, it seems illogical that one can be safe when one is destroyed and that one can be doubtful when filled with joy. What she is saying, however, is that sometimes it is better to die than to live a life that is dominated by mental stress and anxieties.
- "Fathered he is, and yet he's fatherless." This statement from Act IV appears contradictory because it is impossible to have a father while not having a father. Her statement, however, refers to the fact that Macduff has physically left his family, though he remains with them in spirit and in memory.
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