What are two examples from Macbeth that show how Macbeth is in control of his own life?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Although the three witches incite Macbeth's ambition by showing him seemingly favorable prophecies, and Lady Macbeth masterminds Duncan's assassination, it is ultimately Macbeth's decision to follow through with the murder and brutally kill the king in his sleep. Immediately after Ross and Angus inform Macbeth that he has...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Although the three witches incite Macbeth's ambition by showing him seemingly favorable prophecies, and Lady Macbeth masterminds Duncan's assassination, it is ultimately Macbeth's decision to follow through with the murder and brutally kill the king in his sleep. Immediately after Ross and Angus inform Macbeth that he has been presented the title Thane of Cawdor, he begins contemplating King Duncan's murder. In an aside, Macbeth says:

If good, why do I yield to that suggestion Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair And make my seated heart knock at my ribs, Against the use of nature? Present fears Are less than horrible imaginings. (1.3.137-141)

Macbeth's comments reveal that assassinating the king was his idea first, which suggests that he is in control of his decisions. Before committing regicide, Macbeth reveals in a soliloquy that it is his "vaulting ambition" motivating him to follow through the murder. Towards the end of act two, scene seven, Macbeth hallucinates and sees an imaginary dagger leading him towards Duncan's chamber. Macbeth remarks:

I see thee yet, in form as palpable As this which now I draw. Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going, And such an instrument I was to use...I go, and it is done. The bell invites me. Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell That summons thee to heaven or to hell. (Shakespeare, 2.7.40-64)

The fact that the imaginary dagger is leading Macbeth to the place he planned to go indicates that he is in complete control of his life. The hallucination can be interpreted as a manifestation of Macbeth's deepest desire to become king and represents his willingness to commit regicide in order to usurp the throne.

Another example of Macbeth being in control of his life is depicted in act three, scene one, when he instructs two murderers to kill Banquo and Fleance. At his point in the play, Macbeth is determined to cement his legacy as king and prevent Banquo's prophecy from coming to fruition. By hiring assassins to kill Banquo and Fleance, Macbeth is taking action and behaving like a resolute, callous tyrant. He even conceals his dark plan from his wife and acts independently. Additionally, Macbeth demonstrates personal agency by instructing murderers to slaughter Macduff's family in act four, scene one. Macbeth's decision to hire murderers to vanquish his enemies reveals that he is acting independently and in control of his life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Throughout this play, Macbeth is offered various opportunities to abandon his murderous plot, yet he chooses over and over to seek the glory of being king.

In act 1, scene 7, Macbeth considers backing out because King Duncan trusts him, and he has proven to be a loyal and faithful leader. Macbeth's conscience is clearly working against his ambitions, and he even tries to back out, telling his wife that "we will proceed no further in this business" (I.vii.33). This angers his wife, who has ambitions of her own and now feels that they lie almost within her grasp, and she insults her husband, pressing him to move forward. At the end of this scene, Macbeth changes his mind once more, again choosing to move forward with regicide:

I am settled, and bend up
Each corporal agent to this terrible feat. (I.vii.89-90)

As forces mount against him, Macbeth continues to choose murder and violence. When Macduff flees to England, Macbeth strikes out at him where he knows it will prove most devastating:

The castle of Macduff I will surprise,
Seize upon Fife, give to th’ edge o’ th’ sword
His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls
That trace him in his line. (IV.i.167-170)

And he proves as good as his word, killing every person in Macduff's household, including his children. This both devastates Macduff and firmly positions him for revenge.

Macbeth receives prophesies that he could have ignored; instead, he chooses to believe that they guarantee a future he desires, and he thus also chooses to destroy anyone who stands in the way of the fulfillment of those desires.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Macbeth is in control of his life because no one forced him to kill the king. The witches shared the prophecy with him, but they never forced him to do anything. Banquo does not act on the prophecy, which suggests Macbeth did not have to either.

Secondly, Macbeth is in control of his own life because of his conduct when he is king. Macbeth was an awful king, suspicious and weak, assassinating people who MIGHT be a threat to him, not people he was sure would try to kick him off the throne.

Despite the witches' prophecy, Macbeth was not obliged to take heed of it. Instead, he allowed his ambition to swallow him whole and he allowed his wife to convince him to go through with the act.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Macbeth is in control of his own life because even though he received prophecies, he is the one who chose to act on them.

Macbeth is definitely influenced by others. The witches made prophecies that he would be Thane of Cawdor and king. He could have ignored them, as Banquo did. Instead he chose to tell his wife about them. She then encouraged him to pursue the opportunity, even if it meant killing the king.

When Macbeth found out that Malcolm was named the king’s heir, he was upset. He made a comment in an aside, which reinforces the fact that Macbeth wants to be king no matter what. It demonstrates his anger at being passed over, and his ambitions.

[Aside] The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap, For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires … (Act 1, Scene 4)

Macbeth chose to act on what the witches told him. He did have a hard time making up his mind. His wife was more strongly in favor of the idea. Yet, Macbeth listened to her and chose to follow her lead. When he suggested that it might not work, she told him he just needed to be strong enough.

MACBETH If we should fail?

LADY MACBETH We fail! But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we'll not fail. (Act 1, Scene 7)

Lady Macbeth was persuasive, but it was Macbeth who eventually made the choice. More importantly, once he was king he stopped listening to anyone. He was the one who chose to kill Banquo and Macduff's family. Once king, he was desperate to remain king.

For the second set of prophecies, Macbeth was convinced that they were unrealistic and contradictory. How could a forest come for him? How could he be not harmed by man born of woman, but still beware Macduff? How could Banquo’s sons be king, if he killed him? He did not kill Fleance, Banquo’s son. Malcolm brought the forest to Macbeth’s door. Macduff turned out to not technically be born of woman. Yet it was Macbeth’s reliance on prophecy that muddled everything and made his reign unsuccessful.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team