Fate vs. Freedom


Fate may state what will be in one’s life however, how that destiny comes about is a matter of man’s own choice. In other words, incidents don’t occur because our destinies are written. In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare expertly uses the theme of fate vs. free will and raises the pre-eminent question of which holds power over the characters. In Shakespeare’s tragedy, fate is not the cause of his downfall, his own desires and choices prove to be the deciding factor.
There are several examples of fate playing a distinctive role in the lives of Macbeth’s players. The main catalysts behind fate are the three witches seen intermittingly throughout the production. During their second appearance, they share this harrowing truth with the audience. “Sleep shall neither night nor day / Hang upon his pent-house lid; / He shall live a man forbid: / Weary se’nnights nine times nine / Shall he dwindle, peak and pine (I.iii.19-23). The sailor can be viewed as none other than the Thane of Glamis, Macbeth. As seen later in the play, Macbeth becomes deprived of sleep due to the overwhelming guilt and paranoia he faces. Furthermore, he dwindles away mentally; the hallucination of Banquo is a clear example of the mental deterioration. Physically, death is the ultimate fall of a person. The witches are able to clearly predict events seen later in the play possessing some foresight, yet every power has its limitations.

The most prophetic statement in the work is given by none other than the witches. As Macbeth approaches the hags, they great him by saying, “All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis! / All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor! / All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!” (I.iii. 47-50). The wicked women state the first two correctly; he is the thane of Glamis and the newly appointed thane of Cawdor. The third is correctly stated, yet the audience is unsure of this truth. Macbeth is not the current King, but fittingly all will “Hail him King”. This profound prediction lays the bedrock for the argument of fate. Once again, the witches have a control over Macbeth and merely suggest the possibility and leave the rest up to Macbeth.

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We are given yet another proclamation, three to be exact, by the sisters. “Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! beware Macduff; / Beware the thane of Fife. Dismiss me. EnoughThe power of man, for none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until / Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill / Shall come against him” (IV.i. 80-81). All three of these declarations prove to be true in the end. The final fate of Macbeth is depicted in these three lines. The apparitions correctly reveal Macduff, a son born of cesarean section, will strike down Macbeth in cold blood, after the trees of the forest will be cut down by the English army and used as camouflage.
Fate plays the role of suggestion, but with every prophecy and “pre-determined” event, there is a subsequent set of actions and choices by the persons involved to ultimately arrive at the destination. The forecast of kingship spurred Macbeth to action, which caused him to fulfill, through his own free will, though influenced by the witches’ suggestions of a possible kingship, his own predictions. The witches themselves possess no real power to ensure that their predictions come to pass. Macbeth also replies later: “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me, / Without my stir” (I.iii. 144). This seems to indicate that he doesn’t regard the witches as the voice of fate, but of chance. He believes he has choice in the matter. The witches tempted him, but it was his own ambition that led him to commit the crime. Macbeth eventually decides that “chance” needs some help, and so he murders Duncan.
Another example of freewill is Macbeth arranging the death of Banquo and his sons. “I will give you a job whose execution will take your enemy off. Both of you know Banquo is your enemy? … Fleance his son, keeps him company, his absence is no less important to me than his fathers, and his time must embrace the Fate of the dark hour. Resolve yourselves apart”(III.i. 128-139) Free will is the cause of the decision, he is worried about the threat Banquo and Fleance pose to the crown and Macbeth makes the decision to contract murderers to eliminate the threat.

Amid Macbeth, the characters’ own ambition continues to shine through. Lady Macbeth is obsessed with her husband reaching the throne. “We fail? But screw your courage to the sticking-place, / And we’ll not fail, when Duncan is asleep his two chamberlains will I with wine and make merry” (I.iiiiiii 59-64.). She is following her own will and is not worried about what might happen, she is pre-occupied with her own personal quest to be queen.
Be it ambition or revenge, Macduff is driven by his own actions in the events leading up to and of the actual killing of Macbeth. Macbeth speaks; “Of all men else I avoided thee, / but get thee back my soul is too much charged with blood of thine already. / Macduff speaks I have no words my voice is in my sword: / Thou bloodier villain than terms can give thee out!” (V.iiiiiiii 5-8.). He makes the decision to cut down the trees of Birnam. He chooses to lead the English army into battle. Finally, he chooses to hunt down and duel with his former friend now foe, Macbeth. The witches’ prophesized these things, but the final causal source was Macduff.

Macbeth was not a hopeless victim of fate, he was pushed by the power of suggestion, and in the end he ultimately chose his actions. The characters are people guided by a God, witches or a higher power, giving major points of destiny, yet the control of how they handle life events is on the individual. Macbeth and the rest of the cast can not just sit back and blame “fate;” life is what each individual person makes it. The play makes an important distinction: Fate may dictate what will be but how destiny comes about is a matter of chance of man’s own choice or free will.

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