Is Macbeth by William Shakespeare a tragedy of destiny or a tragedy of character? (Do you attribute Macbeth's downfall to fate or a weakness to himself?)  

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thanatassa's profile pic

thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Macbeth by William Shakespeare both character and fate work together. First, we can say that the major flaw in Macbeth's character, and the one that tempts him to listen to the witches and eventually murder Duncan, is ambition. Macbeth himself states:

    Macbeth:     I have no spur
    To prick the sides of my intent, but only
    Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself,
    And falls on th'other. . . .
    Macbeth Act 1, scene 7. 25–28

To separate out character from fate, though, is probably anachronistic. Character, after all, can be determined by fate just as events are determined by fate. Moreover, fate precludes neither the action of character nor free will. Within the Christian context in which Shakespeare wrote, God would have complete foreknowledge of the choices people would freely make according to their character, and fate, or more properly, providence, would take these into account.

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rachaely123 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 2) eNoter

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"Macbeth" by William Shakespeare is one of the four great Shakespearean tragedies. It is a play that can be read on many different levels and can allow anyone of any age to enjoy regalia, murder and mystery, magic and witches, and evil finally being conquered in the end.  The tragedy is one of both destiny and character. The plot is indeed set into motion by the witches. They foretell that Macbeth will be King. Therefore, there are supernatural elements involved which dictate that destiny has determined, as foretold by the witches that Macbeth will be King; first, Thane of Cawdor, then, finally King.

But, Lady Macbeth, when she reads the letter sent by Macbeth telling her of the words of the witches, plans to put into motion, a murder plan which suddenly spins out of control. Maybe they didn't have to kill King Duncan. Maybe the witches could have foretold a heart attack or a stroke, but within the personality of Macbeth, he has already stirred in him emotions in which he will "o'er leap" the rightful sons of Duncan in a way which will not be natural. The action soon turns deadly with Macbeth killed in the end.

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timpuli | Student | eNotes Newbie

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Macbeth could be seen as a tragedy of both destiny and character; however, with Shakespeare, he prefers to point out the weaknesses in individuals as well as society.  The best answer would be that of the character.

We first see Lady Macbeth as the ambitious character.  She is so determined for her husband to wear the crown that she chastises him with what she would do for him if he asked it from her.

"How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this."

She would have killed her own child for him.  That's pretty disgusting for a character to go that far.  Then Macbeth goes beyond just killing the king and has killers go after Banquo, his son, and then eventually the ENTIRE family of Macduff.  These are all steps taken by a character in order to fulfill destiny.  The witches gave him the idea, but it was his own will that made him go after his dream.  He lost control at the point when Lady Macbeth's guilt was beginning to get the best of her.  Both characters end in tragedy because of their ambition to rule.

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