“Fair is Foul, and Foul is Fair”

ESPN’s Recap of McBeth’s Historic Round Doesn’t Make Sense, But It’s Mindbogglingly Beautiful

By Josh Woods ~

Cover art

Not since Bob Dylan wrote “Desolation Row” has poetry like this flowed from the gumball world of popular culture.

Not since Matthew read W. H. Auden’s “Stop All the Clocks” in Four Weddings and a Funeral have the popular and the poetic been paired so neatly.

On the ninth of July 2018, having heard news of disc golf’s greatest round in history, ESPN’s SportsCenter held the nascent sport in its arms, raised it to the sky like Rafiki holding up baby Simba, bathed it in articulate spot light, and jammed Shakespeare in the background.

It was freaking awesome!

If you’ve been wrapped in a cocoon of duct tape for the past week, here’s what you missed:

ESPN’s video has bounced around disc golf land like a seven-year-old on a sugar high. This was SportsCenter at its best. Its uniquely postmodern view of pop culture, its insistence on blending cultural forms, its embrace of the ridiculous and profane, its mix of low-brow sports and high art were all on display in this one-minute, forty-four-second masterpiece of sports journalism.

Against the backdrop of spectacular highlight footage from Paul McBeth’s 18-under-par round at the 2018 Discraft Great Lakes Open, the ESPN commentator recited five famous lines from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Viewing the clip for the first time, I thought the Shakespeare quotes were perfect. That is, they felt perfect. On the second time through, I still loved every word from the Bard of Avon. But, after watching it for a third time, I scratched my head a bit.

I mean, yes, I get it: Paul’s last name sounds exactly like the name of Shakespeare’s tripped out play, Macbeth. But beyond the word play, the analogy is, at best, a headscratcher.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is not a story about heroic success or achievement. It’s a tragic tale of greed and deceit, and a weird one at that. Imagine a movie directed by David Lynch that mixes the plots of Wolf of Wall Street, Scarface and Braveheart, add in hallucinogenic witches and a wife who gives bad advice, and voilà: Macbeth.

Let’s take a closer look at the five quotes in the recap.

At the beginning of the segment, we see Paul go three under par with an eagle on hole two of the Toboggan course. SportsCenter delivers its first Macbeth quote: “False face must hide what the false heart doth know.”

This line comes from a moment in the play when Macbeth is thinking about killing his friend Dunkin, the King of Scotland. By the end of act one, Macbeth and his wife have cooked up a plan to invite King Dunkin to their castle for a boozy holiday in the countryside, murder him while he sleeps, and steal his throne.

Macbeth feels contrite, but gradually builds up his determination to go through with it. His reference to hiding a “false face” simply means that he and Lady Macbeth will need to hide their nasty intentions during Dunkin’s visit. When the king arrives, they’ll need to be good actors (false face must hide), if they’re going to get away with regicide (what the false heart knows).

Headscratcher rating: five out of five stars.

False face must hide

On Toboggan’s par-four hole three, Paul catches cage on his second throw, taps in for birdie and ESPN gives us this: “I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more is none.”

What does this mean? Well, at one point early in the play Macbeth is wishy washy about the whole slit-my-buddy’s-throat plan. His wife, on the other hand, is ready to roll. Responding to Macbeth’s reservations, Lady Macbeth says something like, “What? Were you drunk last night when we talked about this? Man-up and get the job done!”

Defending his manhood, Macbeth is like, “I am a man. I am! But there’s a point where being macho and manly just isn’t cool, even if you do have outstanding facial hair.”

Headscratcher rating: five out of five stars.

I dare do all that may become a man

Jumping ahead to the Toboggan’s hole five, ESPN shows us Paul canning a sixty-footer for birdie. As he heads to the basket to retrieve his disc, we hear a line from the three witches in Macbeth.

In the play, the witches recite, in spooky unison, “Fair is foul, and foul is fair; Hover through the fog and filthy air.”

This comes in the first scene of the play and foreshadows the gloomy truth of what’s to come. Basically, the witches are telling us that those who seem like “good guys” are actually “bad guys,” and situations that seem ideal are most certainly not.

Although the quote sounds kind of badass, it makes no sense at all. There was nothing foul about Paul’s negative eighteen. There were no foreboding clouds that day. No dangerous, winged creatures creeping in the hedges. No earthquakes, no floods, no rowdy Trump supporters. Just a beautiful day in “Pure Michigan” where history was made on a disc golf course.

Headscratcher rating: five out of five stars.

Fair Is Foul and Foul Is Fair

After slipping on his drive, Paul picks up his only par on hole 10. This time, ESPN’s quote from Macbeth makes sense: “Things without all remedy should be without regard. What’s done is done.”

Lady Macbeth says this line to her husband as she urges him to forget about the fact that they just killed the king. It’s time to move on, she implores. Although the two contexts couldn’t be more different, I suppose the analogy works.

Headscratcher rating: one out of five stars.

Things without remedy

“McBeth! Fifty feet!” the commentator exclaims as Paul sinks his birdie putt on hole 18 and solidifies his historic round score of eighteen under par. In the final moments of the ESPN segment, we hear: “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”

In the play, this line takes us back to the witches in the first scene. They are planning to meet up with Macbeth after he returns from the battlefield and begin bending him toward the darkest part of his soul. The witches symbolize the potential in all of us to do terrible things, to fail as humans.

Headscratcher rating: five out of five stars.

When shall we three meet again

ESPN’s marriage of McBeth and Macbeth doesn’t make much sense. And nor should it. What ESPN does so well is release us from the monotonous sense making of everyday life. Akin to art, music, poetry and religion, sports free us from the iron cage of rationality.

They provide an escape from the daily grind. They create a world of suspense and wonder. They shepherd us to the dreamlands of heroism, emotion, superstition, ritual, shared experience, belonging and community.

Sports don’t need to make sense. They just need to feel like they do.


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Photo source: The film Macbeth, Directed by Justin Kurzel, 2015.


Parked is underwritten in part by a grant from the Professional Disc Golf Association.


8 thoughts on ““Fair is Foul, and Foul is Fair”

  1. “False face must hide what the false heart doth know.”

    They mention Paul being number two ranked in the world. Could be a nod to taking down number one. Could also be a reference to Paul’s focus. He’s about to shoot possibly the greatest round ever and the only person who knows it’s possible is Paul McBeth.


    “I dare do all that may become a man; Who dares do more is none.”

    I’m about to make history and not another person in the world could do it.


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

    Paul coming from his quote unquote “down season” to shoot one of the greatest rounds ever? Paul’s play is “downright flithy” it’s so good?


    “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?”

    The meeting of Paul, the disc, and the basket? When will this perfect storm rear it’s head again?


    Those were my first interpretations. It’s so open that it could be justified in many ways, which I think is what makes it good.


    1. Good thoughts, drk. I like those interpretations.

      I frankly didn’t care that the connections between Macbeth and McBeth are tenuous. I just enjoyed the unlikely juxtaposition of two things I love: Shakespeare and disc golf. “Fair is foul and foul is fair…” was my favorite moment.

      Brilliant work by ESPN.


  2. Thanks drk for the alternative interpretations. And I agree with you bubatl, the “Fair is foul” line was my favorite.


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