Is Macbeth a tragedy of destiny or a tragedy of character?

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A tragedy of destiny is when a malevolent destiny or course of fate negatively influences the life of a protagonist , which leads to their demise. The protagonist cannot escape their fate and is completely at the mercy of their destiny and malignant universal forces. In contrast, a tragedy of...

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A tragedy of destiny is when a malevolent destiny or course of fate negatively influences the life of a protagonist, which leads to their demise. The protagonist cannot escape their fate and is completely at the mercy of their destiny and malignant universal forces. In contrast, a tragedy of character is when a protagonist is influenced by an inherent character flaw to make a terrible decision, which results in their downfall. One could argue that Shakespeare's classic play Macbeth is considered a tragedy of character.

At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is depicted as a loyal, valiant soldier who supports King Duncan. Upon meeting the Three Witches, Macbeth receives the favorable prophecy that he will be Thane of Cawdor and future king of Scotland. Once Ross and Angus inform Macbeth that he has been given the title Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth immediately begins thinking about assassinating the king.

Macbeth's violent thoughts reveal his ambition, which is his most prominent character flaw. Along with Lady Macbeth's encouragement, Macbeth's ambition motivates him to commit regicide. After Macbeth assassinates Duncan, he develops into a bloodthirsty tyrant, primarily concerned with murdering his political enemies. While one could argue that Macbeth was destined to become king and the Three Witches resemble the three Fates of classical mythology, Macbeth made the conscious decision to follow his ambition by assassinating the king. Therefore, Macbeth's character flaw and deliberate actions are the reason Shakespeare's Macbeth is considered a tragedy of character.

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In a tragedy of destiny, such as Oedipus Rex, the main character or characters have been pre-ordained by a divine force to come to a tragic end. No matter what Oedipus does or doesn't do—and he does try to take control of his destiny—he is fated to kill his father and marry his mother. Nothing can change this.

In a tragedy of character, the main character or characters have a moral choice. They can choose to act or not act based on the information they have, and this decision has meaning. Their actions will have consequences, and the characters can change the future based on their choices.

We can see that Macbeth is a tragedy of character. Macbeth is given the information that he will become king of Scotland, but he is not forced to act on this information by killing Duncan to gain the crown, nor is he told he has no choice but to do this. He has a choice. This is emphasized in the play when he changes his mind and decides not to go through with the murder—until again persuaded otherwise by his wife.

It is his own character flaw, his ambition for the throne, that motivates Macbeth to act as he does and then to become ever more murderous. The play cautions that what we dream of having might not give us the satisfaction we hoped for and that gaining what we want through immoral means will lead to a bad end.

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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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At first glance, Macbeth seems to be a tragedy of destiny. The witches prophecies begin to come true and it seems that Macbeth and Banquo have been predestined for certain roles. However, Macbeth actually chooses his destiny when he plots and chooses to kill Duncan. From then on, his goal is to protect his throne even though the witches have told him already that he would be king. He still feels it important to kill Banquo and try to kill Banquo even though he is no threat to him if all he is considering are the witches prophetic messages. So the main tragedies of the play are because of choices Macbeth chose and not the destinies that are supposedly chosen for him.

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A very interesting question: Macbeth uses the fact that the witches prophesy his rise in power in Scotland to commit horrible, atricoous acts. When in fact that only thing the Wierd Sister have correct is the fact that Macbeth is going to be crowned the Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth decided to "augment" his fate by killing Duncan, Banquo, Duncan's Guards, and countless others. The play deals with the tragedy of the character of Macbeth. Character has a dual meaning here: it could mean the person in the story --- Macbeth or the moral code of Macbeth. One looking in this vein should see that the characterflaw of the naked ambition of Macbeth leads to all of the tragedy in the play. If Macbeth did not take the prophecy of the Weird Sisters and pervert it then the tragedy could have been avoided. To look and say that it was destiny that Macbeth did these things or that destiny guided him would be foolish. Macbeth is a study in what a man can see in innocuous portents when he has unchecked ambition.

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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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I would lean more toward "Tragedy of Destiny" than character, but you really could find evidence to support both views.

My reasons for supporting the Destiny claim is that Macbeth in the beginning of the play is completely on the up and up.  He is noble, brave, honorable, and concerned about how he appears to others and what they think of him.  He and Banquo have a great relationship and they work well together.  They are an incredible team on and off the battlefield.

Then, the meddling witches make their first appearance and play with his head.  The witches tell him that he will be "thane of Cawdor" and "king hereafter." 

Second Witch: All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!
Third Witch: All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter! (1.3)

Almost immediately afterward, Ross rides up and bestows upon Macbeth the title of Cawdor to Macbeth's amazement.  He writes a letter to his wife telling of the fantastic happenings.

When he arrives home, Lady Macbeth has already decided that they must take matters into their own hands and kill Duncan in order to make the remaining part of the prophecy come to fruition.  Macbeth recoils from the idea, but not too much.  They go through with the diabolical plan.

Up until this point, Macbeth has been a victim of what others have said he needs to do--then he begins making decision on his own (which is where you could point out and support "tragedy of character").

Macbeth hires murderers to kill Banquo and Fleance.  He orders the deaths of the Macduffs. He misinterprets the apparitions. It can be argued that he dies bravely.

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