In his tragedy play Macbeth, William Shakespeare utilizes the motif of free will versus fate and biblical imagery to suggest that the corrupting force of power and greed not only debauches one’s moral but also ultimately leads to one’s self-destruction.
Although many may argue that the role of supernatural beings account for Macbeth’s inevitable downfall, Shakespeare’s employment of a free will versus fate motif accentuates human nature’s so easily succumbing to temptation, resulting in demoralization. Immediately, from the opening of the play, the Three Witches, the supposed speakers of “truth” in Macbeth’s eyes, set in stone what fate and apparitions truly are with the paradoxical, foreshadowing statement of “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (1.1.10.): fate, at the instantaneous moment, might appear to be a tangible forthcoming one, but in reality, the results may be opposite from the sheer appearance; they explicitly proclaim the potential chance of misconception and falsity in their statements, yet the fact that Macbeth chooses to want the supernatural beings to “stay” and “tell [him] more” prevails his willingness to do whatever it takes to make a deal with the Devil, the initiation of his trading of soul and morals for inflated enticement (1. 3. 70.; Hunter 230). Thus, Shakespeare makes a clear parallel with society and Macbeth, as both, in pursuit of fulfilling their ultimate goal of ascendancy, may even commit a murderous deed to get what they desire. Also, while Macbeth conscientiously “knows exactly what he is doing and is at all stages aware of his own progress”, from the first moment of encounter, he fails to prove his realization through actions, such as discontinuing his bloodshed scheme, and thereby loses the possibility of redemption (Moseley 365). His lust for power drives him so far that self-awareness starts to play a lesser role in his decisions and narrows his view of his ultimate goal of domination to merely the end, not the process. Hence, Macbeth inevitably gives life to the witches’ prophecies; their words contain no power, just potential influences but is given power “only because Macbeth already has ambitions and desires that alarm him” (Moseley 364). His hopes effectively blinds him so far that he firmly believes that the delightful illusion brought upon him is the reality. This is further evidenced by Macbeth’s distorted, manipulated interpretation of the Witches’ three apparitions; because the witches, the embodiments of fate, are a conglomerate of all evils and cannot be wholly comprehended, fate, merely laid as possibilities and not as guarantees, is open to any interpretation by any means (Tonge 234). Hence, Macbeth’s misconstruing the apparition sheds light onto his uncontrollable ambition that insulates his mind into a parochial one in a way that would avail in attaining his pinnacle of sovereignty. He is essentially lost in his own self- made delusion that hoaxes him to act in his belief that the apparitions are not only true but also justify his malevolent actions. For example, when Macbeth “sees” a dagger, which exemplifies the sharp guilt that reside in Macbeth, with the “handle toward [his] hand” (2. 1. 33.) before him, he eagerly justifies his confusion between reality and hallucinations by openly welcoming fate as his running course of action when in fact it is his free-will. Again, fate and the Witches’ words fundamentally have no power but are rather empowered and given meaning to by Macbeth. Ultimately, by rashly submitting himself to the witches, Macbeth is engulfed by darkness, or evil, that in a greedy search for more insight, he forfeits his soul and essence to the incomprehensible agency of darkness. After all, the fruit was only dangling in front of Macbeth; he chose to eat it just like Adam and Eve.
Moreover, the concept of free-will driven by avarice causing degradation in morality is delineated in comparison of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to Adam and Eve in relation to greed. Adam and Eve possess nearly everything in the Garden of Eden with the exception of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil; similarly, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth own sufficient status in society for not only is he the Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor, but also “[Duncan’s] kinsman and subject” (). Howbeit immediately from the moment he hears his “destiny” to become the next king, because of human nature’s inclination to readily yield to one’s pride— the desire to make oneself the as one’s own beginning in an effort to reach the pinnacle— Macbeth sets his priority on his crave for something more and is willing to go insofar as to violate the underlying root of relationships: familial relation. Although they are not related by blood, Macbeth and Duncan are still related, and the fact that Macbeth wholly disregards that tie solely for his own gain evinces the extent to how unscrupulous he is. Additionally, Macbeth “knows that to murder Duncan is to violate the laws of kinship, homage, and hospitality”, yet he strikes against the principles of certainty and simply follows his ambition, which underscores Macbeth’s degradation in moral for realization is not enough to justify his actions: he fails to put his realization into action by not performing the murderous deeds to attain more power, and although he is aware that he will be perpetrating a crime and going against his morals, Macbeth persists in confusing the truth to carry out his ambitious means in achieving his supremacy (Coursen 293). Likewise, Adam and Eve are tempted by the serpent’s allurement of possibly becoming like God and never receive the “reward” they had hungered for; instead, in desiring more and attempting to be sufficient in themselves, Adam and humans in general, become not only less but also diminish from the competent God (Kirsch 271). This parallels Macbeth in that initially their intentions are both pure, but at the moment of choosing from right or wrong, both willfully chooses the wrong path and ultimately faces self-destruction: Macbeth faces death and instead of his anticipated result of expanding his glory, loses the glory he had once held before, while Adam is banished from the Garden of Eden, a place that could suffice both Adam and Eve more than they ever could by themselves. Furthermore, their wanting to be greater than someone or some being epitomizes the Deadly Sin of Pride, “the fact that the sinner loves himself before all other things” (Moseley 363). Among the seven deadly sins, the foremost of all is pride, as it is rooted by the firsts of mankind, Adam and Eve, who contravened the one rule that God had put forth by eating the fruit in hopes to become like God. In essence, on top of the masses of people Macbeth has massacred, he commits the deadliest sin of all, the conclusive indicator of depravity and self-ruination. His pride to be the greatest in society also deprives his discernment entirely as Macbeth ironically asserts that “From this moment The firstlings of my heart shall be The firstlings of my hand” (4.1), albeit he has been acting based on his first impulse from the start of the play simultaneously with the aggrandizement of his deadly sin of pride. With the purblindness of his judgement that he is invariably right, Macbeth dismisses and neglects to consider his moral values up to the point where the little sense of morality he may have had once before is now non-existent; his amour-propre is also the reason for the aforementioned misinterpretation of the witches’ words for he does not think beyond what he wants to believe and does not question the validity of the statements to utilize the empty prophesies as mere futile rationales of his actions. In short, the nature of egotism, the deadliest sin of all, is the root of Macbeth’s decline in morals that costs him more than just the loss of his kingdom on earth: internal deterioration.
Last but not least, Macbeth’s corruption and decadence in morals, leading to the corroding of internal soul is highlighted in a further comparison to biblical imagery— Adam and Eve shying away behind the leaves. Once the seeds of his evil scheme is planted in Macbeth’s soul, in order to consummately conceal his execrable intentions, expresses his anxiety in his statement of “Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires” (). His wish “to avoid detection by any revealing light- as if God’s vision of His world could be momentarily veiled” draws attention to how simple Macbeth’s perception of corruption is (Coursen 291). As light is often associated with revealing the truth and since light is unavoidable, it signifies the inescapability of repercussions in moral corruption. No wrongdoing, whether it be only thought in one’s head or outwardly prevailed, can be undone or redeemed by a veil; it will always be inevitably disclosed in one form or another. Hence, Macbeth’s internal struggle is manifested not only through his hallucinations of Banquo’s ghost but also through his belief that his sins are too deeply stained that even Neptune’s ocean cannot wholly cleanse his crime (2.2.58). His actions may have been able to be concealed for a brief amount of time, but he is figuratively chained to the anguish of inundated guilty memories that make his mental state unstable to the point where his spiritual soul is also affected by them. The most indicative case of this is the moment right after the killing of King Duncan when Macbeth realizes his inability to pray, a striking realization that connotes his incapability to call on Christ and his beyond-mercy evil discourse (Hunter 230). Faith is an integral component of seeking a possible redemption and serves as a crucial basis for determining one’s moral standards; consequently, Macbeth’s loss of his spiritual linkage means the loss of morality since he no longer has a foundation of morality on which to base his discernments. In other words, congizant of the fact that he is undeserving of the blessing of “Amen”, he traded his soul with the evil supernaturals to gain an ephemeral glory on earth that he never even fully experiences.
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