Macbeth: Fate vs. Free Will
Throughout the ages, it has been believed that fate has the power to forge one’s destiny. By some uncontrollable force, the outcome of a person’s choices is controlled by the way in which they are destined to occur. On the other hand though, some believe these choices can defy fate and that fate only manipulates one’s mind into choosing their own path. One question that seemed to pop into my head through out this play was whether individuals were victims of fate or their I own choices, or if each aspect plays a significant part in determining their destiny.
In the play Macbeth, William Shakespeare plays around with the idea of fate, placing the destiny of Macbeth before him, yet allowing his own ambitions and desires to drive him insane in order to achieve it. However, at the beginning of the play, Macbeth is portrayed as a good man. Yet he decides to commit, not one or to two, but a series of bad actions that only he had the power to control.
Fate, a powerful source thought to control all events, even a person’s destiny. If fate were to be real, then the outcome of a person’s (Macbeth’s) life would be inevitable. If the concept of fate was true, from the moment of birth your life would have already been planned out and you are helpless to change it. The questions that seemed to, and still does, taunt me was “Was Macbeth really a victim of fate?” and “Did the choices he made have some sort of impact on the outcome of his destiny?” In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, there is a constant looming of these two questions. Macbeth had been given all these prophecies, that all seemed to come true, but he also played a big role in those because of the decisions he made. Macbeth is in no way under a spell or curse; he chose to create a path of evil for himself.
The ability for Macbeth to choose his own fate appeared as soon as he decided to stop and listen to the witches. He showed us that what they were saying was important to him when in the first act he says, “Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more.” (Act I, scene i, line 70). Before Macbeth actually came upon the witches, he was clueless to what would happen in the nearby future. Yet after his encounter with the witches, his mind was going back and forth trying to figure out how he should act upon the prophecy of becoming king! It was by then that the idea of fate had been planted into his head, and with such good title to come with it, why wouldn’t he want to believe his ‘fate’? Something that I found very interesting about the witches was that looking closely at line 24-25 when one of the witches says, “Though his bark cannot be lost, yet it shall be tempest-tossed.”
From what I seemed to understand, these lines seemed to really show the limitations to the witches’ powers, because they were basically saying that they could only make life rough for the clueless captain, but they could not kill him. I think that this is really important to all the people who thought that the witches had ‘written out’ Macbeth’s fate because in the same way as the previous stated scene they can tempt Macbeth with predictions about his future, but they cannot make him choose evil. Meaning that in this scene, one of the conflicts is obviously fate vs. free will! All the witches really did was find a way of stirring up evil, by tempting Macbeth into choosing to opt for evil instead of good. “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me, without my stir.” (Act 1. Scene iii. Line 10). Here, Macbeth seems content to leave his future to “chance.”
If “chance” will have him crowned king, then there’s no reason for Macbeth to “stir” or lift a finger against King Duncan (or anyone else) in order to make things happen. “The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step on which I must fall down, or else o’er leap, for in my way it lies. Stars hide your fires; let not lights see my black and deep desires: the eye wink at the hand; yet let that be, which the eye fears, when it is done, to see. (Act 1. Scene iv. Line 4)” Back at the previous quote I had quoted, Macbeth seemed happy to sit back and let his fate unfold. But, once he learnt that King Duncan had named Malcolm the Prince of Cumberland and heir to the crown of Scotland, Macbeth decides that he must take action or, “overleap” what now appears to block his path to the throne.
He acknowledges that his “desires” are “black and deep” so it’s obvious that he’s decided to commit murder in order to make the witches’ prophesy come true. Now let’s take a step back and think: Was Macbeth’s downfall caused by fate or free will? One way of looking at this argument could be by saying: in the play, the outer forces could have controlled Macbeth. After all, the three witches prophesized that Macbeth would become king. (1.3.4) They also knew the exact circumstances of Macbeth’s downfall (4.1.8), which could suggest that Macbeth had no control over his own fate. But on the other hand, in the play we clearly saw Macbeth planning the murders, and then make his own choices and put his plans into action. And this is of course; his own free will. He decides it. I for one believe that it was hiss free will the whole time, that the witches fate started a spark in Macbeth’s ambitions, which caused him to go out of his mind and loose whatever part of is sanity that was left.
A quote that I found to back up my reasoning to this was when Macbeth says, “I am settled, and bend up each corporal agent to this terrible feat. Away, and mock the time with fairest show: false face must hide what the false heart doth know.” I think here it really shows us that Macbeth was not controlled by his fate, but by his free will. I say this because, the witches never really said anything to Macbeth about murdering Duncan, or Banquo in order to make the prediction come true, Macbeth did thought that all by himself. I think that it shows us that it wasn’t fate for Macbeth to get the throne, his own actions got him the throne in ways that the witches had not ever mentioned. I would like to go back to a passage I had previously quoted, “Though his bark cannot be lost, yet it shall be tempest-tossed.”
I think that this quote is very important because this is where we are shown that the witches aren’t as powerful as though to be! All this time people thought that the witches had ‘written’ out Macbeth’s fate, but none of them ever stopped to think of how powerful the witches truly were. As I had previously stated, here the witches seem to be saying that they could not kill the sailor, but they could make life a living-hell for him. This shows that maybe the witches didn’t have any fate planned for Macbeth, they were just looking for somewhere to stir up conflict and saw the perfect opportunity with Macbeth. I mean after all they are withes, stirring up trouble comes in the job description. The witches knew that Macbeth was an ambitious man, that all he really needed was to be given a little push!
When the witches told Macbeth about their so called ‘prophecy’, but in reality all it really was what he wanted to hear. If Macbeth was a wise and noble (as we had heard he was) then maybe he would have taken the time to actually consider that what they were saying was meaningless. Instead, he let the prophecy get into his head and let it give a push to the ‘already present’ ambition he had for power. To wrap up this essay, I would like to answer the 2 questions that had been hanging around in my head: Was Macbeth really a victim of fate? And did the choices he made have some sort of impact on the outcome of his destiny? After looking over all the details from my essay, it became clear to me that Macbeth was not a victim of fate. Like I had previously stated, the witches had only planted the idea into his head because stirring up trouble was their nature, but that does not mean it meant anything!
Macbeth always had tat little piece of ambition inside of him, the one in which he dreamt of being king and Thane of Cawdor, because back in the Elizabethan times titles were important! I think that Macbeth used the prophecy to take the guilt away from the ambition he was feeling. He used it to guide himself, but no part of it had to do with fate! It was all Macbeth’s free will. The witches gave him something to think of as his future, but it was nothing set in concrete. Throughout the play, Macbeth kept building onto his “fate”, believing that fate was fate and that either way he couldn’t anything to stop it. Every time he killed someone, he did it because he thought that he had to kill those that stood in the way of his fate.
All the choices Macbeth made impacted his future, and no, it was not because of fate. It was because Macbeth had a spark of ambition, which was rubbed against a prophesised fate that then turned into a huge disaster. Overall, I believe that Macbeth was responsible for what happened during every second of his life, and that fate was not leading him to his destiny. I do believe that after a while Macbeth started to loose his mind and forget what he was doing in the first place. I think that the theme of Fate vs. Reality is crucial in this play, because it really gives us an understandidng to Macbeth and his personality.
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