Macbeth Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

Macbeth book cover
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Free will or fate? Is there evidence of Macbeth's actions being guided by destiny or by free will?

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kristenfusaro eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Concerning free will and predestination in Shakespeare's Macbeth, our views on whether or not people have free will are irrelevant.  Macbeth is a character in a play, not a human being.  In answering this or any other question about a work of art, what matters is what's in the work of art. 

What's for sure is that Shakespeare raises the issue in the play and reflects questions that were on the minds of thinkers in his day.  Predestination vs. free will was an issue in Shakespeare's time, as, in fact, it still is today.  Shakespeare's play reflects this.  The issue may be seen as a refinement or continuation of the question of fate, which goes back at least as far as the Greeks.

The fact is that in the play the issue is ambiguous, and an argument can be made supporting that Macbeth was controlled by fate, or that Macbeth maintained free will. 

At the heart of the issue are the witches .  Do they really know the future?  Do they just know the future, or do they control it, too?  Or...

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epollock | Student

There doesn't appear to be anything in the play that suggest that Macbeth was a pawn of the Gods and unable to make a decision on his own. He was weak, of course, and his ability to carry out the murders of King Duncan and the others that followed were not necessarily started by the witches, but by Lady Macbeth herself. It was her goading early on that led him to commit the acts he did. He might have been stirred up by the prophecie3s of the witches, but without the actions of Lady Macbeth, he would not have had the will nor the strength to commit those acts in the first place.