Do the events in Macbeth’s life occur because of the witches’ prophecy or because of the choices he makes?  

The events in Macbeth's life are due to the choices he makes. As he himself points out, if he is fated to be king, he will become king, without having to do anything about it. It is Macbeth's decision to kill Duncan and to collaborate with the witches.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When the witches tell Macbeth that he will be king, in act 1, scene 3, he himself makes the point that

if chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me,
Without my stir.

It is in the following scene, when Duncan confers on Malcolm the title of prince of Cumberland, that Macbeth begins to think that he may have to act in order to seize the crown for himself and begins plotting to do so.

The witches do not tell Macbeth to murder Duncan, and even if they had done, he would not have to obey them. It is notable how much Macbeth and Banquo, both noblemen and generals from similar backgrounds, differ in their treatment of the witches. Banquo, who is modest in the company of those he considers his equals, treats the witches with haughty contempt, refusing to be influenced by anything they say. Macbeth is fascinated by the witches and quickly allows himself to become a tool for their use.

Macbeth is influenced by both the witches and his wife, but in the end, his decisions are his own. He soon shows an aptitude for tyranny and murder. The witches tell him to beware Macduff, but they do not suggest that he should kill Macduff, let alone Macduff's wife and children. Shakespeare makes it clear that Macbeth's mistake lies not in believing in the witches' power. Witchcraft appears to be real within the world of the play. His mistake lies in trusting the witches, and believing that they mean anything other than harm to him, or any other human beings. It is his lack of any moral compass of his own that makes him so eager to collaborate with the powers of darkness.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial