Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

Macbeth book cover
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Why does Shakespeare have Macbeth echo the witches’ words “fair” and “foul” as his first line in Macbeth? Is it really important? 

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Macbeth is a living embodiment of the paradox first announced by the Weird Sisters and goes on to show this after he himself speaks toward the foul–fair paradox. This should be a day of triumph; King Duncan's forces have just comprehensively defeated the Norwegians in battle and Macbeth played a leading role in their crushing victory. Duncan is so grateful for Macbeth's actions that he rewards him with the title of Thane of Cawdor. And yet there's something not quite right. The very fact that Macbeth is drawn to seek out the Weird Sisters and listen to their prophecy indicates that he's still not satisfied, despite all his honors and achievements. Macbeth's ambitious soul is restless, seeking not just the honor and glory of this world—the fair—but also the kind of power that only the forces of darkness can confer upon him—the foul.

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litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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It is significant that Macbeth echoes the witches’ lines as his first line.  This ties him to the witches, and demonstrates their influence on him.

When Macbeth first speaks, he seems to repeat the witches’ warning from the first scene.

So foul and fair a day I have not seen. (Act 1, Scene 3, p. 12)

By repeating what the witches say, Macbeth is demonstrating that he is possibly influenced by them.  Later on in the play, Hecate scolds them for messing with him. They seem to already be playing with him.  By beginning the play with the witches, Shakespeare is foreshadowing the dark and supernatural elements.  By having Macbeth echo this line, we see that the witches are at work.



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