Fair is foul, and foul is fair

Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.

– William Shakespeare

Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 1. This couplet is chanted by the three Witches when they get together during a storm to talk about their future meeting with Macbeth. The incantation “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” is synonymous with the Macbeth drama. It sets the scene and tone for everything that follows in the play. It means that appearances can be deceiving and it foreshadows what will happen in the course of the play. What seems good will be evil, and what appears evil will be good. The words “fair” and “foul” are each a metaphor for the other. The “fog and filthy air” bad weather that accompanies the Witches suggests the moral uncertainty in Scotland and how characters are unable to distinguish between what is “fair” and “foul.”