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Essay: Macbeth – fate and free will

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Elbert Hubbard, an American Writer, once said, “Life is a compromise between fate and free will.” There is a constant struggle between what fate decides, and what the consequences of free will lead up to. Even if the end of a pathway is predetermined by fate, the way it is reached is through one’s own decisions made by free will. The consequences of these actions made in free will then determines how one comes about their destiny. In Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare, the characters suffer fated deaths resulted from their actions. Fate and free will cohesively go hand in hand ultimately leading up to the deaths of Duncan, Lady Macbeth, and Macbeth.
The death of Duncan is determined by fate and free will because the actions of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth led to his death. When Macbeth comes across the witches, they reveal to him that he, “Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter” (1.3.53), and he becomes ambitious to reach that position quickly. Throughout the play, Macbeth solely lives by the witches’ prophecies, basing his decisions off of what they say. At the time this prophecy was stated, Duncan was King of Scotland. Previously, the witches tell Macbeth that he would be Thane of Cawdor, which became true, so Macbeth believed in the accuracy of the prophecies. This persuaded Macbeth that it was in his fate that he would become King of Scotland, since it was predetermined by the witches. As it was Macbeth’s fate to become King of Scotland, it correlated that Duncan’s fate would be death, in order to fulfill the prophecy. Although it may seem that Duncan’s death was fate, Macbeth’s free will determined how he would take Duncan’s throne. After Macbeth heard his prophecy, he told Lady Macbeth his fate. She suggested that he should kill Duncan, and starts to plan the murder. Initially Macbeth was rather reluctant to Lady Macbeth’s idea of murder, however she later persuaded him into following through with the assassination. As Macbeth saw the blade, he asks, “Is this a dagger which I see before me,/ The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch/ thee” (2.1.44-46). Macbeth decides that he will murder Duncan out of his own free will. He explicitly asks for the dagger, “Come let me clutch thee” showing the desire behind his actions. Macbeth’s free will changes proportionally with his characterization, because he went from viewing murder as impure, to now committing one himself. As his values and perceptions change, Macbeth acts differently, which overall influences his free will. Fate and free will are both accountable for Duncan’s death because of the actions Macbeth took to fulfill the witches’ prophecy that he would become king.
Lady Macbeth’s free will led to her negative influence on Macbeth, and eventually resulted in her fate, her death. At the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth’s characterization was headstrong and powerful. She serves as the main influence for Macbeth to murder Duncan, as she extensively argues against Macbeth, demanding that he must follow through with the murder. She uses his own manhood against him by stating, “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” (1.7.56-58). Lady Macbeth was the first to know when Macbeth had heard the prophecy of becoming King of Scotland, and was overjoyed by the news. She made sure that he would fulfill his prophecy, regardless of any circumstances. She harshly criticizes Macbeth for not wanting to commit the murder, depreciating him as being less than a so called “man.” Her argument is effective, as Macbeth successfully committed the murder. Lady Macbeth misuses her free will, as she only looks in interest of herself and Macbeth, not considering anybody else being affected by her actions. A change in her characterization occurs after Macbeth had become King of Scotland and abused his power by ordering unnecessary murders. Lady Macbeth becomes overwhelmed with guilt as she was the one who forced the impurity in Macbeth, driving her to be mentally and emotionally unstable. She has a gentlewoman to take care of her, and one day a Doctor comes to visit. He evaluates, “Unnatural deeds/ do breed unnatural troubles. Infected minds/ to their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets./ More needs she the divine than the physician” (5.1.75-78). Lady Macbeth’s fate is determined by her free will because her “unnatural deeds” drove her to have an “infected mind” which is out of the Doctor’s control. Her fate is death, as the Doctor believes that there is nothing that can be done to cure her of her troubles. Lady Macbeth’s free will of previous constraint upon Macbeth has led her to feel responsible for Macbeth’s presiding actions. Macbeth kills former friends who he believes are now enemies, susceptible people, and harmless families, showing the impact of Lady Macbeth’s free will. She eventually commits suicide because the pain was unbearable. If Lady Macbeth had not been so forceful towards Macbeth killing Duncan, he would not have gone insane, and she would not have felt guilty. Fate and free will determine Lady Macbeth’s death because her guilt was oppressive causing her suicide.
Macbeth’s death came from his free will to ignore his fate. The witches tell Macbeth his fate through various prophecies which change Macbeth’s characterization dramatically throughout the play. He becomes overconfident in his actions as the witches relieve his worries of anybody killing him. Macbeth begins the play as a pure and caring soldier, but eventually turns into an evil tyrant. Once he fulfilled the witches’ prophecy of becoming King of Scotland, he began to misuse his control of the country. Macbeth states, “The castle of Macduff I will surprise, / seize upon Fife, give to th’ edge o’ th’ sword / His wife, his babies, and all unfortunate souls / That trace him in his line…/ This deed I’ll do before this purpose cool” (4.1.171-175). To ensure his own safety, Macbeth decided to kill anyone that is related to Macduff. A king must put his country before himself, but we see the opposite in Macbeth’s rule. Macbeth is doing everything in his power to protect himself, rather than his country. The witches’ prophecies did not specify his rule, only that he is destined to be King of Scotland, therefore it was Macbeth’s free will that he became a tyrant. We see Macbeth approaching his fate when Macduff comes to battle. During the fight, Macbeth’s last few words were, “Before my body / I throw my warlike shield. Lay on, Macduff, / And damned be him that first cries, ‘Hold! Enough!’” (5.8.37-39). Macduff had killed Macbeth, which was Macbeth’s fate. Macbeth had severely misused his power, resulting in the retaliation of his people, leading to his own death. Fate and free will were responsible for the death of Macbeth, because his unfair ruling angered the people, leading them to avenge. Macbeth, being overconfident, was not prepared for this comeback, and was consequently defeated.
Macbeth’s fate was determined by his inconsiderate previous actions, or free will, which led Macduff to murder Macbeth.
Fate and free will work together interchangeably to determine the deaths of Duncan, Lady Macbeth, and Macbeth. Fate is predetermined, but the way in which we reach it, is due to our free will. One’s decision will not only impact how they reach their own fate, but also other’s fate. Before making outrageous choices, one must consider the effects it may have on other people and to be mindful of everyone’s lives. Although one may not be able to change their destiny, they can still change their actions and perception to be respectful towards others.
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