Is Macbeth a tragedy of fate or destiny? Give textual evidence to support your answerThis is for a school assignment.

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amy-lepore eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, there are witches who make prophecies and predictions throughout the play, but it is Macbeth who chooses to act upon these prophecies to force them to come true in his favor.  He is also helped by his wife's ambition to become queen...she forces her husband into the pattern which overcomes him and leaves her behind to deal alone with her guilt.  His choices are as follows:

So, in Act I scene I, we have the witches stating they will meet with Macbeth.  In Act I scene 3 we see them giving Macbeth and Banquo their first taste of prophecies--Macbeth will be Thane of Glamis, Cawdor, and King.  Banquo will not be King, but his children will be; he is not as happy or great as Macbeth, but happier and greater than Macbeth.  From the very start, the witches hint that Macbeth has both great goodness and great evil inside of him...he has free will to choose which to follow, but his ambition gets in they way. In Act 1 scene 3, the King's men greet Macbeth with "Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor."  Making the first prophecy come partly true.

Act 1 scene 5 shows us Lady Macbeth's tendency toward evil and ambition.  Macbeth really doesn't have a chance to follow the goodness in him with her as his helpmate.  In Act 2 scene 1 Duncan is murdered so that Macbeth may become King.

In Act 3 scene 1 Banquo suspects Macbeth has had something to do with the King's murder to fulfill the witches' prophecy. In Act 3 scene 3 the murderers Macbeth has hired kill Banquo but Fleance gets away and flees to England with Malcolm, Duncan's son and rightful heir to the throne.

In Act 3 scene 4 we know that Macduff has not attended Macbeth's coronation, and now he is not at the banquet to celebrate Macbeth's leadership.  In this same scene, Banquo's ghost visits and Macbeth makes the decision to go visit the witches again. 

In Act 4 scene 1, the witches and Hecate give him the apparitions which further predict Macbeth's future.  An armed head who tells him to beware Macduff.  A bloody child who tells him none born of woman can harm Macbeth. A crowned child with a tree who tells him he will not fall until Birnam Wood marches up Dunsinane Hill.  The last thing he sees is a long line of Kings who look like Banquo, and the line goes on forever.  In Act 4 scene 2, Macbeth sends murderers over to take care of Macduff's entire family and any friends and servants who happen to be at the home at the time.  This is what seals his fate with Macduff who wants to save his country and avenge his loved ones.

In Act 5 scene 8, Macbeth and Macduff meet, Macduff tells him that he was born of caesarian section, and he defeats Macbeth, cuts off his head, and takes it to the Malcolm, the new King of Scotland.

kc4u | Student

This is an eternal debate which actually concerns Shakespeare's interplay of the themes of free will and predestination in Macbeth, also recalling the contemporary debate between Erasmus and luther.

Is Macbeth a tragedy of ambition or imagination? Is it a tragedy of fate or the workings of individual choice and agency? The witches do draw Macbeth into the act of sin but he chooses the modus on his own. He falls prey to their equivocation. Whether it is Macbeth or Lady Macbeth, I think the tragic problem of evil is something that Shakespeare locates both inside and outside, both in subjective and objective terms, both in destiny and in free will. It is Macbeth's subjective interpretation of the prophecy that leads him to the murder. Even after it, it is his moral thought-pattern and metaphysical consciousness and imagination that lead him further into his tragic suffering.