What are 5 quotes from Macbeth about fate and free will?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

With the Elizabethans' strong beliefs in the spiritual realm, the worlds of the preternatural and the human certainly drive the plot of Macbeth as the interplay of the prophesies of the three witches and Macbeth's "vaulting ambition" raise questions as to which is the greater influence upon him. Truly, from the very onset of the drama, the workings of fate seem to predominate. In Act I, Scene 2, for instance, a bleeding captain returns from the battlefield and describes to King Duncan and Malcolm the victory of Macbeth over fate. He relates how Macbeth should have died as the enemy swarmed upon him, but he defied fate:

And fortune, on his damned quarrel smiling
Showed like a rebel's whore, but all's too weak:
For brave Macbeth--well he deserves that name--
Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel,
Which smoked with bloody executions (1.2.8-12)

After encountering the three witches with Banquo, as they predict that Banquo will father kings and Macbeth will be made Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth's friend cautions him to not give these creatures' words much credence. However, within minutes Ross arrives to tell Macbeth that the king has bestowed this title upon him. In an aside to Banquo, Macbeth whispers that two truths have just been told. And then in an aside, Macbeth ponders the power of fate,

If chance will have me King, why, chance may crown me, 
Without my stir. (1.3.154-155)

But, at the same time, Banquo understands the role that free will plays,

New honors come upon him,
Like ouir strange garments, cleave not to their mold
But with the aid of use. (1.3.158-160)

In Act 1, Scene 7, Macbeth has freely chosen to take matters into his own hands, acting on his own free will,

I am settled, and bend up
Each corporal agent to this terrible feat.
Away, and mock the time with fairest show:
False face must hide what the false heart doth know. (1.7.90-93)

But before he murders Duncan, Macbeth wrestles with his conscience and believes that he sees fate planning for him, hoping to ease his anxiety, for he does not wish to kill his kinsman, and realizes the seriousness of regicide:

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand?Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? (2.2.41-47)

Later, Macbeth realizes more that it has been his "vaulting ambition" which has driven him and not fate. Yet, he proves himself ever the warrior at the end as he fights to the death.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Once King Duncan names his elder son, Malcolm, the Prince of Cumberland and heir to the throne, Macbeth says,

The Prince of Cumberland!  That is a step
On which I must fall down or else o'erleap,
For in my way it lies (1.4.55-57).

Earlier, Macbeth had expressed his hope that "chance" would crown him king without having to do anything special to make it happen, just as he was named Thane of Cawdor without trying to acquire the title.  Now, however, Macbeth suggests that if he wants to become king, he is going to have to find a way to do it without being named Duncan's heir.  He must either "fall down" at this step, in other words, he must give up, or he must "o'erleap" this setback and jump over it to claim the crown for his own.  This sounds very much like free will.

In act 3, scene 2, when Hecate chastises the Weird Sisters for meddling with Macbeth without her, she tells them how to make it up to her.  She wants them to meet her at the Acheron, where, she says, "[Macbeth] / Will come to know his destiny" (3.5.16-17).  Such a line implies that there is such a thing as destiny or fate and that Macbeth's fate has already been laid out.

The statements made by the apparitions conjured by the Weird Sisters also imply the existence of fate or destiny.  The first tells Macbeth to "Beware the Thane of Fife!" (4.1.82).  The Thane of Fife is, indeed, the person who will kill Macbeth.  The second apparition tells him,

Be bloody, bold, and resolute.  Laugh to scorn
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth (4.1.90-92).

This warning comes to fruition when Macbeth discovers that Macduff was not technically "born"; he was delivered via C-section.  Next, the third apparition tells him that,

Macbeth will never vanquished be until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill
Shall come against him.  (4.1.105-107)

This bears out when Malcolm orders his army to chop down boughs from the trees in Birnam and carry them in front of themselves in order to camouflage their numbers.  

Finally, the fourth sight shown to Macbeth is that of a line of eight kings, stretching out from Banquo's ghost.  Macbeth says that "the blood-boltered Banquo smiles upon me / And points at them for his" (4.1.138-139).  When Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, King James I of England sat on the throne, and this king was, in fact, distantly descended from Banquo.  Thus, this scene appears to be prophetic in that Banquo's descendants will become kings.  Since each of the apparitions' statements turn out to be true, they appear to support the interpretation that fate dictates the action of the play.