I'm writing an essay on free will vs. fate in Macbeth.  (I went with free will.)  What three points could I grab from this thesis statement?Thesis: Shakespeare plays puppet master with the...

I'm writing an essay on free will vs. fate in Macbeth.  (I went with free will.)  What three points could I grab from this thesis statement?

Thesis:

Shakespeare plays puppet master with the character Macbeth by dangling his fate in front of him, but at the same time it is Macbeth's own desire and intellectual views that lead him into mental illness and finally to suffer his foreshadowed fate.

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andrewnightingale's profile pic

andrewnightingale | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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The first point you can explore is the statement that Macbeth's fate is "dangling in front of him." From this, you can discuss the witches' initial prophecies that he would become thane of Cawdor and "king hereafter." Describe Macbeth's responses to these and contrast them with those of Banquo when they also divulge his future. Do these predictions act as a spur or are they definite markers of the fates of both? It is interesting to note that Macbeth himself muses:

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

In this, he clearly suggests that if it were his destiny to be king, it would be so without any action from him. The question is, therefore, whether Macbeth had already contemplated doing his malicious deed and that the prediction is only an encouragement for this choice or whether the prognostications were the seed for this idea. In both instances, free will is involved.

The first point you can explore is the statement that Macbeth's fate is "dangling in front of him." From this, you can discuss the witches' initial prophecies that he would become thane of Cawdor and "king hereafter." Describe Macbeth's responses to these and contrast them with those of Banquo when they also divulge his future. Do these predictions act as a spur, or are they definite markers of the fates of both? It is interesting to note that Macbeth himself muses:

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

In this, he clearly suggests that if it were his destiny to be king, it would be so without any action from him. The question is, therefore, whether Macbeth already contemplated doing his malicious deed and that the prediction is only an encouragement for this choice, or whether the prognostications were the seed for this idea. In both instances, free will is involved.

The above links to Macbeth's own desire, which is the second point to be considered. The fact that he sees the predictions as "happy prologues to the swelling act/ Of the imperial theme" is a clear indication that his mind had dwelt on the idea of becoming king. The question is, therefore, how did he previously think he would achieve this? His extremely negative response to Duncan naming Malcolm prince of Cumberland suggests that he believed the king would name him his successor and not his son. It is probably this circumstance which gave Macbeth the volition to search the shorter way and satisfy his "vaulting ambition."

On an intellectual level, Macbeth considered all the positives and negatives of his pernicious plot, as indicated in his soliloquy in Act l, Scene 7. He eventually concluded that he and his wife "will proceed no further in this business." It is his wife's insistence, however, that persuades him to undertake this malicious deed. It is not fate that made the decision for him; he had a choice.

Finally, you can consider Macbeth's "foreshadowed fate" and his response to these predictions. The weird sisters told him of the circumstances leading to his defeat and eventual death by using paradox and equivocation. When they told him that he will not be defeated until Birnam wood come to Dunsinane, he chose to read their prediction literally. When he was told that "none of woman born shall harm Macbeth," he did the same and believed he was invincible. Even though he acted on their warning to be wary of the thane of Fife, Macduff, by sending assassins to have his family killed, Macbeth did not realize their warning about "none of woman born" referred to Macduff as well. 

It was this gullibility that sealed his doom. Macbeth, in the final analysis, was a victim of his own ambition, greed, malice, and incredibly blind faith in the evil sisters and their auguries.

kc4u's profile pic

kc4u | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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If the three witches are to be believed in the role of the “fate sisters,” Macbeth’s own ambition precedes the proclamations of the witches on the heath in act 1 scene 3. The witches only served as mirrors on which Macbeth could see his own mind.

Macbeth’s long soliloquy in act 1 scene 7 reveals how Macbeth examines all the pros and cons of the murder of Duncan. He is clearly self-divided, drawn asunder by the contrary pulls of his “vaulting ambition” and his moral scruples. His unlawful ambition seems to get the better of his imaginative conscience.

It is again Macbeth himself who chooses to kill Banquo and his son, Fleance, though Banquo didn’t pose any threat to Macbeth’s power and authority. Fleance was on the hit-list only because of the prophecy of the witches as regards Banquo.

Macbeth’s decision at the end of the failed Banquet  to meet the witches is yet another instance of his “free will.” By meeting the witches and receiving another set of prophecies, Macbeth virtually enhances his doom.

Even if the tragic downfall of Macbeth appears as pre-destined, it is Macbeth himself who catalyzes the tragic outcome by his act of “free will.”

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