Do you think the witches control Macbeth's fate? Or does he control his own future?

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This is an interesting question that certainly fits one of the main dichotomies of the play between fate and free will. Although the witches play a significant role in Macbeth's choices, the two times that they give him prophecies, the play overall more supports the idea that Macbeth is responsible for his own choices and therefore has control over his actions.

For one thing, the witches are only depicted as creatures who foretell events. They are not shown in the play to have the power to change or manipulate the future, only to have some knowledge of it. Therefore, when they meet Macbeth and Banquo in act 1, scene 3, although they give prophecies to each, they do not give indications as to how the events will or should come to pass. Instead, they leave the prophecies in the hands of Macbeth and Banquo to interpret. One of the ways that the reader can rely on this idea is through the character of Banquo. Although Banquo does consider the witches' prophecies themselves, he is more concerned with their motives, thus showing that Macbeth was not mandated by the witches to act upon what they prophesied. Indeed, when Macbeth considers becoming king after the prophecies, he initially says: "If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me / Without my stir" (act 1, scene 3, line 147). Only when he and his wife discuss the issue does he move seriously beyond this resolution into taking the matter into his own control.

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Macbeth controls his own future. The witches make prophecies both at the beginning of the play and in act 4, as everything is unravelling for him, but it is entirely his own decision to act on their words.

Macbeth understands this as he struggles to cope with the prophecy that he will become King of Scotland. He can forget about these words, or he can alternatively, wait and let this event unfold naturally. The witches never tell him that the only way he can become king is to murder Duncan. He knows he can simply go about his life and eventually Duncan will die.

Macbeth makes the conscious decision to speed the prophecy along through murder. Nobody forces him to do this. Even Lady Macbeth's forceful arguments and manipulations can't force him to act: he chooses to listen to her words. Shakespeare shows clearly that Macbeth himself makes the immoral decision to murder, that he knows it is immoral, and that he is fully responsible for it. At the end of the play, too, Macbeth makes the decision to trust in the witches' words rather than proceed based on a more realistic appraisal of his situation.

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As I understand it, the three witches do not have any control over Macbeth's fate. What they can do is predict the future--and the future is unchangeable. As far as Macbeth controlling his own fate, that is impossible, although that is exactly what he tries to do. It was inevitable that he would murder Duncan. Shakespeare's message in this play is fatalistic. Whatever is going to happen to Macbeth--or to us--is already predetermined. There are some scientists and philosophers and others who believe that everything that happened and will ever happen after the Big Bang was predetermined because every effect has to have a preceding cause, and there is an unbreakable chain of cause and effect leading from the Big Bang throughout eternity. Whether or not this is true, it is implicit in Shakespeare'sMacbeth. Macbeth tries to prevent Banquo's heirs from becoming kings instead of his own children and their heirs. It cannot be done. Fleance escapes. There is a significant passage in Act 4 when Macbeth is consulting the three witches and is warned against Macduff but assured that "none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth." He says:

Then live, Macduff; what need I fear of thee?

But yet I'll make assurance double sure

And take a bond of fate.

Here we see Macbeth at his most ambitious, arrogant, headstrong, belligerent, and unreasonable. Imagine demanding a bond from Fate itself. None of us can even be sure of what is going to happen to us tomorrow. But according to the philosophy implicit in Shakespeare's play, whatever happens is already predetermined and inevitable.

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