Who are the speakers and what is the context for the quote "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" in Macbeth? Provide an explanation for the quote. 

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This phrase appears at the beginning of the play while the witches are planning to meet Macbeth for the first time after his victory in battle. In Act One, Scene 1, the witches recite the significant phrase, "Fair is foul, and foul is fair" (Shakespeare 1.1.12). This motif runs throughout the entire play and essentially means that appearances are often deceptive. Also, the word "fair" means good, and "foul" means evil. The witches are saying that things that seem to be good have the potential to be evil. This ominous phrase encourages the audience to perceive situations at a deeper level and not take character's actions or appearances at face value. For example, Macbeth believes that he is destined for greatness after hearing the witches' prophecy in Act One, Scene 3. However, Macbeth becomes ambitious and ends up killing King Duncan. Macbeth then begins his tyrannical reign and cannot stop murdering people that he considers adversaries. Macbeth's seemingly "fair" prophecy turns out to be "foul." 

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The witches speak this line, in the first scene of the play. They have just announced their intention to "meet again," specifically with Macbeth, after the "battle's lost and won." We do not know what they have planned, but we can tell that they do not mean well, and that their meeting with Macbeth portends great evil. They fly away through a storm, chanting the rhyme mentioned in the question. This sets the stage for the play in an important way. The idea that things are not as they appear--that what appears to be fair is actually foul--is a running theme in the play. Macbeth's apparent loyalty to Duncan disguises his treachery, his ascent to the throne is built upon the murder of a most fair monarch, and Lady Macbeth casts aside her femininity--an act that would have been viewed as "foul" to Shakespeare's audiences--to plot the murder of Duncan. Moreover, the witches themselves offer up prophecies that seem very good for Macbeth, but are in fact ruinous.

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