What is a thesis statement for "fair is foul and foul is fair" in Shakespeare's Macbeth?I want to explain in my essay how the theme is present in all elements of the play (the supernatural, nature,...

What is a thesis statement for "fair is foul and foul is fair" in Shakespeare's Macbeth?

I want to explain in my essay how the theme is present in all elements of the play (the supernatural, nature, and in the characters)

Expert Answers
booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In order to write a thesis statement, one needs to have something to say about Shakespeare's line in Macbeth, spoken by the witches at the start of the play. By definition, a thesis statement...

...states the thesis or argument of the author in an essay or similar document.

It is no more than a sentence or two in length, and is found in the essay's introductory or first paragraph, at its end. It lets the reader know the topic of the paper, and because it is an "argument," it puts forth an opinion or perspective that can be defended with facts (in this case, facts from the play). I have often told my students that it is like going in front of a jury and taking the "guilty or not guilty" stance the lawyer is going to prove. The body of the essay then acts as the evidence to support the lawyer's argument. In essence, it tells the reader what the writer is setting out to prove.

For this quote we need to look at how it is used in the play. In Act One, scene one, lines 11-12, the Weird Sisters (witches) first introduce the paradoxical sentiment.

Fair is foul, and foul is fair.

Hover through the fog and filthy air.

The thought is echoed a second time in Act One, scene three, when Macbeth says much the same thing to Banquo:


So foul and fair a day I have not seen. (39)

The line is paradoxical because it seems to contradict itself. A paradox is...

...a statement that is apparently self-contradictory or absurd but really contains a possible truth.

The word "fair" here means "good." The word "foul" means "bad." The definition seems particularly accurate as we read these lines: how can something be good and be bad, and vice versa? It seems contradictory and untrue. However, as we read, it becomes quite clear: some things that seem good are really bad, while other things that seem bad are really good. There are many examples in Macbeth. For example, when Macbeth says this line to Banquo, he is referring to the fact that the weather is really awful, but it is a good day because while fighting for Scotland they have beaten Norway. This is the use of the line in a literal way. However, if nothing else, Macbeth is a play ripe with examples of misleading appearances. Macbeth is a valiant warrior ("fair"), but in his heart, he is so ambitious that he plots the murder of Duncan, his King, his cousin and his friend ("foul"). On the other hand, when Duncan is murdered, his sons Malcolm and Donalbain flee. To some (and Macbeth makes sure to spread this rumor about his "bloody cousins"--III.i.33), it appears bad ("foul") as if the brothers planned their father's assassination and then fled. However, Malcolm is actually a loving son who is totally dedicated to the welfare of Scotland ("fair").

"Fair is foul and foul is fair" supports the idea that appearances can be deceiving. With this understanding—and how this theme works within the play itself—you can easily support your viewpoint that it permeates the entire play.

If I were to write my own thesis statement for this quote, I would write something similar to the following:

One truth about life is that things are not always as they appear to be. In William Shakespeare's play, Macbeth, one theme presented is "fair is foul, and foul is fair," meaning things that appear to be good are sometimes bad, and things that at first seem bad can actually be good. There are many examples in the play to support this with regard to the supernatural, nature and the play's characters.