In the play Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare,
each characters destiny seems to be predetermined. This
raises the ultimate question: who, or what, controls fate?
Existentialism is the belief that each person defines
their future by their decided actions: that the future has
not yet been written. Fatalism is the belief that the
outcome of all events is preordained, and therefore,
unalterable. Throughout Macbeth, the character Macbeth
makes many decisions which clearly affect his future, but
are they truly decisions? Or, are his decisions
examples of fatalism, where another force is guiding his
actions to their predetermined conclusion?
Many of the characters, events, and much of the
imagery in Macbeth indicates that fate plays a prominant
role in advancing the plot. The characters most easily
identified with having supernatural powers are, obviously,
the three witches.
The Witches' ability to see into the future is
demonstrated when Macbeth becomes thane of Cawdor. The
line, "What? Can the devil speak true?" showes Banquo's
surprise at the realization of the prophecy.
But, would the Witches' prophecy of Macbeth's royal
promotion have come true had they not made Macbeth aware of
the possibility? There was no reason to warn Macbeth of the
fate in store for him, since it is most likely impossible
for a person to alter their destiny. It is quite possible
that the witches have no real power at all, beyond that of
suggestion. They may have only planted the idea within
Macbeth, feeding off his already present ambition. Perhaps
the only true controlling power comes from Lady Macbeth's
Once Lady Macbeth had learned of the witches'
prophecy, she immediately concluded that Macbeth would not,
with his present persona, be able to attain that which fate
had bestowed upon him.
"...Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear
And chastise with valor of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
To have thee crowned withal."
Lady Macbeth believed that it was her duty to induce
Macbeth to carry out the necessary deed (Duncan's murder) to
fulfil the prophecy. However, if Lady Macbeth had not
influenced him, it is doubtful that Macbeth would have taken
any action towards his Royal future.
This substantiates the idea that the strength of the
witches' words lies in the power of suggestion. Although
Lady Macbeth stated her belief in Fate, she felt compelled
to help it along. During the banquet, Macbeth realized that
the path of his life was coming to a "fork in the road", and
that he must choose the direction he will take. Lady
Macbeth saw that Macbeth was unsure, and took it upon
herself to help him decide.
"When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man."
"...screw your courage to the sticking place,"
In the end however, it was Macbeth's decision to
murder Duncan. Just as he chose to kill the grooms. The
Witches' prophecy for Banquo, (that he would be the father
of many kings) also contributed to Macbeth's decision to
order the murder of Banquo and fleance.
But, the Witches' role did not end there. Macbeth
returned to question them further. The three apparitions,
conjured by the Witches, each told Macbeth more about the
fate which was in store for him.
"1. Appar. Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! Beware
Macduff; Beware the Thane of Fife. Dismiss me. Enough."
"2. Appar. Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn the pow'r of man, for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth."
"3. Appar. Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to High Dunsinane Hill shall come against him."
The first and second prophesies could actually be
combined. It is the fate of Macbeth to be killed by
Macduff, just as Macduff was destined from birth to kill
Macbeth. Malcolm's decision to use the trees of Birnam to
hide his army's number was another action which was
Macbeth's decision to send assasins to murder Macduff,
as well as his family and servants, is clearly a result of
his fear due to the words of the first apparition. Though
the second apparition assures him that he cannot be killed
by anyone born of a woman, it was Macbeth's choice to play
"But yet I'll make assurance double sure
And take a bond of fate. Thou shalt not live!"
In conclusion, it is evident that shakespeare wanted
Fate to play a prominent role in the play, without
overpowering a man's ability to make his own decisions.
However it is not clear as to wheather the characters had
control over their own fate. So, if there is, a master plan
which all existance must adhere to, then even something as
simple as this essay is governed by it, and with this last
sentence, another Fate is sealed.
Source: Essay UK - http://www.essay.uk.com/coursework/sealed-fate.php