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“is Macbeth a Victim of Fate or His Own Ambitious Choices?”

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“is Macbeth a Victim of Fate or His Own Ambitious Choices?”

“Is Macbeth a victim of fate or his own ambitious choices?”

Fate, unlike fatalism, does not stipulate that human deliberation and actions are inconsequential in causing an event, as its occurrence is inevitable. Rather it simply states that all events, and the choices leading up to them, are predetermined; hence the role of freewill is no less significant in deciding fated events than it is when considering situations from a non-fated perspective. This concept can be observed in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which the title character’s fate, as it is prophesised in the play, is clearly the result of and dependent on his own decisions as much as it is circumstances beyond his control. Several times during the play, such as in deciding to trust and act on the witches prophecies, Macbeth is seen to consciously choose a path of action that, unknowingly, leads him to his death. While it could be viewed as his fate to die as such it is obvious at all times that he is actively involved in its cause and cannot be considered unresponsible for its occurrence.

The level of freedom Macbeth has in deciding his fate is accentuated by the prophecy that portends its existence. The ambiguous nature of the prophecy;

‘All hail, Macbeth! …. Thane of Glamis!

…. Thane of Cawdor!

…. That shalt be King hereafter!’ (1.3.47-50)

- allows it to be fulfilled in any number of ways, as it does not include the manner in which it comes about. Indeed, the witches neither force nor even suggest to Macbeth that he should murder Duncan and even he considers that

‘If chance will have me King, why,

Chance may crown me,

Without my stir.’ (1.3.43-44)

Therefore his decision to ‘catch the nearest way’ to the prophecies completion is one made entirely on his own as far as fate is concerned. This decision is one that effectively leads to his downfall, whereas had the prophecy been completed in a different manner the aspects of fate dependent on Macbeth’s action in killing Duncan would not have occurred.

The deliberation behind Macbeth’s first murder is such as to expel any doubt over his ability to decide his actions, regardless of our interpretation of fate. During several soliloquies and asides Macbeth expresses his “black and deep desires” (1.5.51) to become King and gradually overcomes his moral reluctance and foreboding long enough to kill Duncan. The independence of Macbeth in this decision is best described when he states:

‘…I have no spur

to prick the sides of my intent, but only

vaulting ambition…’ (1.7.25-27)

- which attributes his actions to ambition, both his and Lady Macbeth’s, alone. While it is also possible to interpret fate as guiding Macbeth’s decision supernaturally, as when he envisions a dagger that ‘…Marshal’st me the way that I was going’ (2.1.42-44), this is just as easily interpreted as being Macbeth’s often imaginative decision making process. Furthermore the guilt that Macbeth feels after the murder indicates that even he finds himself, and not an irresistible force of fate, responsible for Duncan’s murder, which precedes and is largely responsible for his own death.

Macbeth is not condemned to his fate exclusively by his decision to murder Duncan but continues to make choices that result in his undoing after this point. These later decisions can, in fact, be seen as being more definitively Macbeth’s own will, as they are made independent of Lady Macbeth’s influence and, unlike Macbeth’s first murder, in an attempt to avoid rather than achieve a prophecies completion. Macbeth organises Banquo’s murder to fight the prophecy concerning his children and states his opposition to fate as such;

‘…Come, fate, into the list,

And champion me to th’ utterance…’ (3.1.70-73)

Although ultimately this and all of his other decisions, even including his choice to fight to the death rather than committing suicide, result in the completion of the very prophecies he attempts to circumvent it is clearly his decisions that allow this. The prophecies do not come true with Macbeth helpless to stop them; rather he is the cause of their occurrence, even though he acts based on his own deliberation:

‘The very firstlings of my heart shall be

The firstlings of my hand. And even now,

To crown my

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