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Macbeth - Fate vs Free Will (1)

Fate vs Free Will
Some define free will as the idea that humans are free to make decisions unhindered by
external forces, which is often counteracted with the concept of fate -- the idea that a
supernatural power determines events that are beyond a person’s control. In William
Shakespeare's play, ​Macbeth,​ it is questionable as to whether Macbeth is a helpless victim of
fate, or in complete control of his actions. Macbeth’s drive sometimes appears unclear to the
reader, which creates the overall theme of the work, fate vs free will. Both the audience and
outside critics find that regardless of Macbeth’s initiative, he destroys his own life with his
Fate is often perceived to be one’s “true destiny,” in which only the powers beyond
human comprehension can understand it’s whole entirety. Macbeth is one who cannot fully
identify his fate due to his morality, forcing him to have a sudden drive to grasp the outcome.
When Macbeth first encounters the Witches, they provide him with information that leaves him
with curiosity:
FIRST WITCH. All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!
SECOND WITCH. All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!
THIRD WITCH. “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” (1.3.51-53)
As Macbeth realizes he will not be able to completely know what his future entails, he visits the
witches for a second time. Due to the aspirations leaving out small increments of the truth,
Macbeth feels as if his duty in life is being tested, in which he must prove himself to the witches,
finding his fate to be true. In fact, Szigeti, a critic in the article, "The dialects of sin: in
Shakespeare's Macbeth and Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Trilogy," argues that fate may
be the driving factor to all of Macbeth's actions throughout the play. The witches push Macbeth
to a deed, which leaves him in a situation where he cannot escape. Szigeti also argues, “the
seduction to murder king Duncan derives from the prediction of the Weird Sisters, who may of
course be interpreted in various ways.” Although the witches are not visible to the audience,
they are present the whole play. An instance of this is seen at the beginning of the play, when
Macbeth is at the castle, the witches are there waiting for him to kill king Duncan within that
moment, Macbeth remains mired knee-deep in sin, as the world of the Weird Sisters comes to
surface. Fate can ultimately be viewed as the main reason Macbeth performs the actions he does
within the play.
Although through the play fate seems to be the only thing persuading Macbeth to choose
the path he does, he becomes a victim of his own desire. As a member of the audience, it only
makes sense that regardless of what Macbeth's fate was supposed to be, he was conscious of the
actions and sin he was partaking in. It is evident that Macbeth is aware of his fate, but only
believes his actions can fulfill his imagined outcome. He is found second guessing himself, but
then reassured by his wife, completely understanding that his doings are wrong, but it is what’s
necessary to achieve his ultimate goal of royalty. When Macbeth's ability and worth are tested,
he states, “Prithee, peace: / I dare do all that may become a man; / Who dares do more is none,”
making it clear that he made a decision to become king (1.7.50-52). In the article, “Macbeth,”
Michelle Lee discusses the clear evidence that supports the idea of free will in Macbeth. One
critic, Burnham, suggests that Macbeth's actions reflect his, “manufacture of a cruel and
Machiavellian political reality” in which Macbeth is, “subsumed to violence, criminal
destruction, and ruthless ambition” (​“​Macbeth”). J. Gregory Keller looks at the work from a
philosophical standpoint, focusing on ethical thought process, “arguing that far from being a
purely evil figure, the protagonist demonstrates a sophisticated moral reasoning prior to acting on
his ambitions.” In the end, he leaves all of his own reservations behind, refusing to think any
further, instead following Lady Macbeth's “persuasive but thoughtless commands.” (“Macbeth”).
Despite the fact that fate is ideally the start of Macbeth's path, he knows that only his actions can
cause or change his fate, willingly performing the deeds.
Regardless of what initiates the decisions Macbeth chooses, all his actions are considered
to be a sin. Macbeth's gluttony, envy, and pride all guide him in the direction of the killing of the
King, Banquo, and others. Macbeth realizes the result of his actions far too late:
MACBETH: From this moment
The very firstlings of my heart shall be
The firstlings of my hand. And even now,
To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and
The Castle of Macduff I will surprise,
Seize upon Fife, give to th' edge o' th' sword
His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls
That trace him in his line. (4.1.166-174)
Here the playwright alludes to the idea that originally Macbeth had only wanted to kill
the king, but now he willingly kills innocent human beings. In fact, several critics agree
that it simply does not matter what was the deciding factor to Macbeth, because his
doings were wrong. In the article, "The dialects of sin: in Shakespeare's Macbeth and
Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather Trilogy," the author mentions that Macbeth
commits high treason and with his sin, “he dips his hands in blood both literally and
metaphorically” (Szigeti). Macbeth creates a situation where one murder follows the
other, all while trying to escape the fear of being caught, only causing him to get further
from the desired relief. The article also states that there is no set answer as to why
Macbeth assassinated King Duncan, it may have been the “Weird Sisters, Lady Macbeth,
the war, his own ambitions, even his own safety,” all could be influencing factors, but it
would not make sense to make one more significant than another, Macbeth was to rule at
all costs (Szigeti). Not only did Macbeth partake in sins, but he also had to deal with the
unwanted feeling of regret afterwards. The article, “Macbeth and the Tragedy of Sin,”
explains that, “sin takes us away from the joy of being human persons.” While we hope
joy will give us what we want, it most often does the opposite and disturbs our,
“inclination for goodness, fouls the fair, destroys the present, poisons the future, rebels
against our better nature, shakes our undivided humanity, and puts dreams in the place of
reality” (Colston). Overall, Macbeth's sins ruin his entire life, simply by leaving him
with less than what he had to begin with.
One's actions can suggest that fate may be predetermined, but free will determines how
one reaches his/her destiny. In William Shakespeare's play, Macbeth, it is questionable as to
whether Macbeth is a helpless victim of fate, or completely aware and in control of his actions. It
can be argued that Macbeth is driven by outside forces, or is driven solely by his own
determination, which creates the overarching theme of fate vs free will. Macbeth may have been
fated to be king, but decides on his own how he will reach his goal of obtaining the crown.
Works Cited
Colston, Ken. "Macbeth and the Tragedy of Sin." ​Shakespearean Criticism,​ edited by Michelle
Lee, vol. 146, Gale, 2012. ​Literature Resource Center,​ ​https://link.gale.com/a
pps/doc/H1420110038/LitRC?u=wylrc_campbell&sid=LitRC&xid=26187069. Accessed
4 Dec. 2019. Originally published in ​Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture,​
vol. 13, no. 4, Fall 2010, pp. 60-95.
"​Macbeth​." ​Shakespearean Criticism​, edited by Michelle Lee, vol. 100, Gale, 2006. ​Literature
Resource Center​, ​https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/H1410001759/LitRC?
u=wylrc_campbell&sid​=LitRC&xid=f5e9a7e6. Accessed 4 Dec. 2019.
Shakespeare, William. ​The Tragedy of Macbeth​. ​Pearson Common Core Literature, ​Pearson,
2012, pp. 322-415.
Szigeti, Balazs. "The dialects of sin: in Shakespeare's Macbeth and Francis Ford Coppola's The
Godfather Trilogy." ​The AnaChronisT​, 2009, p. 24+. ​Literature Resource Center,​
C&d=df20db37. Accessed 4 Dec. 2019.