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Created by William Shakespeare in the 1600s, the play “Macbeth” has been up until now an influential and popular masterpiece of classic literature. The story tells us about the life of King Macbeth with his ups and downs, revealing to the reader real motives of the actions of the main character; in addition to, highlighting the issue of whether he was in control of his fate, or under influence of people and events that surrounded him. The relationship between fate and free will is a leading topic, brought to light in the tragedy from the beginning to the end, and it leaves a room for philosophical reflection, allowing the reader to think about his own point of view on this subject. What decides Macbeth’s way? Is it free will or fate indeed?
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Macbeth fate vs free will
At the beginning of play, the future King Macbeth meets on his way three witches. The witches foretold Macbeth would become king. “All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!” (Shakespeare 1.3.50-55), a quote from one of them describes the beginning Macbeth’s rise to power, leading to the fact that he is dwelling on the murder of Duncan. This event represents the main factor determining the further decisions of Macbeth, which were fulfilled for the implementation of the prophecy. Shakespeare’s proper placement of three witches at the front of the plot is a specific form of perception of the story by the reader. Wilson notes that the author’s use of language has a fundamental role in the image of witches as a supernatural phenomenon and unique characters of the play (147). In this way, witches embody destiny. Strikingly illustrated by Shakespeare as something unusual, witches personify the explicit image of those who have control over people. In The Sounds of Supernatural Soliciting in Macbeth, by Kranz, the author concentrates on the poetic meter of the lines of the witches, declaring that: “on the one hand, the tune clearly distinguishes the witches from the human characters, who always speak in blank verse, rhymed iambic pentameter, or prose” (352). Various turns in the plot, used by the author, cause a feeling of emotional tension, deepening the reader or the audience of visual representation of the play in the sense of discomfort from the presence of witches. They emerge and disappear, amplifying the sense of uncertainty.
It is also worth mentioning Macbeth’s wife, who influenced his decisions, cynically using a psychological approach, forcing her husband to gain power. Despite this, Macbeth seems to be independently weighed on political murder. The freedom of Macbeth’s will detects expression through his insights; a soliloquy with himself, where he discusses Duncan’s murder; murder, which is still nothing but an impossible fantasy, “present are less than horrible imaginings, my thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, shakes so my singe state of man that function, is smothered in surmise, and nothing is, but what is not.” (Shakespeare 1.3.147-155). Neither witches nor Lady Macbeth could have forced Macbeth to kill Duncan, but they manipulated him, instilling the terrible idea of murder in his unconscious mind. Therefore, destiny or external influence replaces free will. And to the ultimate end, freedom of will and destiny are inextricably linked. In this manner, the play embodies a fundamental difference: fate can predict what will happen, but how it will be executed is a question of conscious choice of a person or free will.
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Without question, the most significant argument for free will is Macbeth’s overwhelming desire to become king. “Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair, and make my seated heart knocks at my ribs” (Shakespeare 1.3.147-155) This was expressed before he killed King Duncan, and we understand he has already tormented with the guilt, even assuming the idea of murder. As a victim and the slave of egoistic and cruel purpose, Macbeth feels insecure, which means independence of his violent actions. Shakespeare strongly captures the reader’s attention to the uncomfortable feeling of Macbeth’s guilt, using the supernatural phenomena that arise on his destructive path. The floating dagger and Banquo’s ghost, seen by Macbeth are not clear, and give us the choice to decide whether they represent real phenomena in the play or signs of Macbeth’s unhealthy mental state, which appeared after the murder of Duncan. Given that Macbeth is a tragic play, the possible interpretation of these key moments also depends on the role of the observer as either the reader of the text or the audience member. For example, the understanding of these spiritual phenomena as hallucination will indicate the sympathy of the audience for Macbeth. By remarkable contrast, Lady Macbeth’s suicide meant she did not cope with her difficult sense of personal guilt. She could not accept the person her husband has become as a result of her manipulation and conviction. Sympathy has promptly changed to criticism. Macbeth killed Duncan, Banquo, and Lady Macduff and her son. All this fault leads to her tragic death, after the suicidal intentions, which most likely appear as a way to escape an unbearable reality.
In summary, Macbeth sufficiently impresses with its conciseness and extreme emotionality, despite the remarkable fact that character dialogs are specially simplified for naturalness and uncertainty. The main characters rarely discuss their emotional experiences straight. Each scene contains tragic elements, mysticism and uncertainty, causing the feeling of incompleteness, therefore confirming the characters and events were all the way to encourage and motivate Macbeth to determine his own choices.
- Shakespeare, W. (1992). Macbeth. Wordsworth Editions.
- Floyd-Wilson, Mary. “English Epicures and Scottish Witches”. Shakespeare Quarterly 57.2 (2006): 131-161. Print.
- Kranz, D. (2003). The Sounds of Supernatural Soliciting in “Macbeth”. Studies in Philology, 100(3), 346-383.