Consider the witches' speeches and actions in Macbeth, and look carefully at the way Macbeth and Lady Macbeth react to the witches’ predictions of the future. Do you think Macbeth and Lady...

Consider the witches' speeches and actions in Macbeth, and look carefully at the way Macbeth and Lady Macbeth react to the witches’ predictions of the future. Do you think Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are capable of free will and act on their own desires, have they become the victims of hubris, or do the witches take over their fates, controlling them like puppets?

You may deal with the play on a literal level, or you may treat the witches as a metaphor for some form of insanity. Either way, show whether Macbeth and Lady Macbeth make their own decisions or whether forces they can not consciously control are compelling their actions. 

You must use direct and accurate references to the Macbeth text to illustrate your arguments and conclusions. The best papers will use several short quotations from the text as proof of an interpretation. When you cite lines or use quotes from the play, use the parenthetical act, scene, and line method. For example, (1.2.3) means Act 1, scene 2, line 3. (ESSAY SHOULD BE 800+ WORDS) 


Concentrate on the thinking exhibited by Macbeth as he commits each killing in the play, from the opening battle, to Duncan and his guards, to Banquo, to the family of Macduff. Also consider carefully the thoughts he takes away from each meeting with the witches. 

Expert Answers
amarang9 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One interpretation is a combination of these suppositions. In short, all three are true. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are capable of free will and making their own decisions. But, they do become victims of their hubris and greed. And they do allow themselves to be influenced by the witches. They are influenced by the witches; not controlled by them. That being said, whether the witches are real, actual supernatural beings or hallucinations is irrelevant; the effect they have on the Macbeth's is still the same. (Given that Banquo also sees the witches in Act 1, Scene 3, one could argue that the witches are real, albeit supernatural.) 

Macbeth is capable of his own free will. But with the very first prophecies, we can see that although he has will, he is easily prodded into doing things: first by the witches and then by Lady Macbeth. Note that Duncan pronounces Macbeth to be the next Thane of Cawdor in Act 1, Scene 2. The witches give Macbeth this "prophecy" in the next scene. There is no evidence to support the idea that the witches influenced Duncan to name Macbeth the next Thane of Cawdor. Therefore, there is no direct evidence here (or elsewhere) that the witches completely control things. This is crucial. It may be that the witches, being supernatural and attune to all sounds, overheard Duncan's decree that Macbeth will take Cawdor. Then, they used this information to influence subsequent events with Macbeth. In short, the witches did not cause Macbeth to become Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth's own merits in war (his will power) and Duncan's appreciation (his will power) made this happen. They have will power. So, the witches are not controlling Macbeth and his wife like puppets; rather they are con artists, giving just enough information to guide Macbeth to follow his own greed. 

Macbeth asks the witches how they might know he is to be Thane of Cawdor. They vanish before answering, leaving him with the impression that they predict the future. (Act 1, Scene 3) However, this is never made clear so it's equally likely to assume that they simply already knew (from hearing, or supernatural intuition) that Duncan was promoting Macbeth and they then decreed it to Macbeth as if they were seeing the future. 

It was the added prophecy that Macbeth (and Banquo's descendants) would be king that peaked his interest further. In Act 1, Scene 5, given the prophecy that Macbeth describes in the letter to Lady Macbeth, she could conclude that Macbeth becomes Thane of Cawdor, Duncan eventually dies, and then Macbeth becomes king. But she lets her hubris and greed dismiss this option. She determines that Macbeth can not wait for "the milk of human kindness" for Macbeth to be gradually promoted to King. At the end of this scene she either concludes or tries to convince herself that fate and the supernatural world are controlling events: 

                                         Hie thee hither,

That I may poor my spirits in thine ear

And chastise with the valour of my tongue

All that impedes thee from the golden round

Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem

To have thee crowned withal. (1.5.23-28)

Note two things: Lady Macbeth intends to "poor" her "spirits" into Macbeth's ear. She intends to persuade him to kill Duncan rather than wait for Macbeth's promotion further down the road. And she concludes that fate has dictated this. So, while she also has free will, she interprets the news in Macbeth's letter to suit her own greed. She could have accepted it as "Macbeth will be king . . . someday." But she used this information to put Macbeth on the throne sooner rather than later. 

Lady Macbeth works on her husband until he eventually goes through with the regicide. As early as Act 2, Scene 2, Macbeth's paranoia and new obsession with the supernatural is starting to get to him. The Porter is knocking at the door: 

                              Whence is that knocking? --

How is't with me when every noise appals me? (2.2.55-56)

Cut to the scene with Banquo's ghost. Like the nature of the witches, it is irrelevant whether or not the ghost is real. If Banquo's ghost is real, he has come to haunt Macbeth because Macbeth killed him (the witches never told Macbeth to do this; Macbeth did so out of fear and greed). If Banquo's ghost is an hallucination, it is because Macbeth is paranoid, haunted by his own fears of being found out and maybe even of guilt. If Macbeth feels guilty at all, it indicates that he feels responsible for killing Banquo. This shows that Macbeth accepts some responsibility: a conscious or unconscious admission that he was at least partly in control of his own actions. By this point, Macbeth believes he has too much blood on his hands. He determines to go to the witches again: 

And betimes I will, to the weird sisters. 

More shall they speak, for now I am bent to know

By the worst means the worst. For mine own good

All causes shall give way. I am in blood (3.4.132-35) 

In Act 4, Scene 1, Macbeth demands that the witches explain how they can predict things. He says, "Howe'er you come to know it, answer me." (4.1.67) He doesn't know how they "come to know it." Note that the witches never tell him to kill anyone. He chooses to do this based on their visions and his own greed (with the prodding of his wife). In the beginning, Macbeth used their visions and spun them into his own plans to become king. By Act 4, Macbeth is motivated by his own will in terms of his greed, but he continues to allow his greed to manipulate the weird sisters' visions. They never tell him to kill Macduff, nor Macduff's family. Macbeth does this of his own will, albeit out of fear. This is key. The witches suggest future visions. They don't say how that future will come to pass. He uses those visions and makes up his own path to that future. Granted, he is at the mercy of witchcraft and visions of ghosts which appear completely real to him. But in the beginning, he was simply given words of encouragement: that he would be promoted. It was the corrupt thinking of he and his wife that led to the string of murders. 

By Act 5, Scene 5, Macbeth is still determined to fight, but he is philosophically despondent, even hopeless. Although he had free will all along, he allowed himself to be manipulated. By this point, he seems quite hopeless. Either he feels like a victim of fate and/or he acknowledges that his actions (his "yesterdays") have led him to where he is. 

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time,

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. (5.5.18-22) 

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are capable of free will, but they allow themselves to be persuaded by their own ambition and the witches' visions.