Monday, November 26, 2012

The Use of Fate In Macbeth

I focused on Shakespeare's use of fate as a concept in his plays for my final assignment, so I couldn't help but notice the role that fate plays in Macbeth, particularly in the last scenes. Generally we think of fate as something that's predetermined and fixed- but the way Shakespeare muses on it, it seems that fate is susceptible to outside forces and a singular fate rests in the hands of the individual.

Macbeth believes that he is not in control of his own fate, and this is apparent through his blind following of the prophesies given by the witches. He is only skeptical of their predictions for moments during their first encounter, until they are proven right when he is pronounced Thane of Cawdor. After that, Macbeth believes that everything the witches say will happen... yet he is unable to recognize his role in these prophecies. At first, he makes it happen. He kills Duncan and defends his title as King; instead of waiting to ascend the throne (because the witches told him it would happen!) he speeds up the process with help from Lady Macbeth.

It seems at first that the witches are predicting Macbeth's entire future when in reality, they are reliant on his actions for their predictions to become reality. The witches aren't the "evil doers" in Macbeth past taking on the role of the instigator, perhaps. However, they didn't promote murder, lying or cheating, they merely told Macbeth of his future. If Macbeth sat idly by and did nothing to make himself king, perhaps it wouldn't have happened.

The roles that the witches and Macbeth play in his own fate, destiny and (eventual) demise are both interwoven and confusing. Shakespeare has created witches- scary, magical beings as a representation of the power we all have to manipulate and even mutate our own futures. Without the witches, Macbeth would have never assumed he had the power to become king- it wouldn't have crossed his mind as an attainable future. However, it is at the hands of Macbeth (and indeed, Lady Macbeth) and not a magical, supernatural force that allows him to ascend to the Scottish throne!

The last lines the witches have (in unison, rather than as independent beings, mind you) is in Act 4 Scene 1, "Show his eyes and grieve his heart, Come like shadows, so depart" (4.1, 126-127)- they summon the last apparition from their cauldron; the band of eight kings and Banquo. This certainly fuels Macbeth's paranoia and emotions, but there is an entire Act left of the play where Macbeth's fate unfolds without another utterance from a supernatural force! Clearly Shakespeare is asking us as his audience to question the role of fate and destiny in Macbeth; the powers all of us have individually to create our futures (the prices way pay for the destinies we choose) and the ability all of us have to be the "witch" to plant the "seed of evil".


Jess said...

Julian, I completely agree with your assertions relating to fate, the witches, and Macbeth's own control over his fate. I also couldn't help but notice that Macbeth had no intention, or real interest it seemed, in becoming king before the witches planted the "seed of evil" into his head. He seemed completely satisfied with his place in society prior to hearing the witches's prophecies. I do think, however, that it was not only the words of the witches that promoted Macbeth to kill the king; Lady Macbeth played a large role in manipulating Macbeth into thinking that killing the king was the obvious action to take. Neither of them even considered just standing idly by and doing nothing, and letting fate take its course. Lady Macbeth egged Macbeth on by threatening his masculinity and calling him a coward. Without her, I don't know that Macbeth would have ended up killing the king.

Christina_Joseph said...

I feel as if Macbeth is just succumbing to the idea of a self-fulling prophecy. The witches as you both point out have laid out the map/plan in which Macbeth will become king and Macbeth realizes that this sounds like a great idea, and thus acts upon it. This self-fulling prophecy is something discussed in my education and psychology courses and the main idea is that once some one internalizes what a person/people say about his/her character or personality, the person believes it and will act accordingly, even though this is not how they normally act. Macbeth might not have had the idea of being a king, but once these credible witches tell him it is possible, he internalizes this idea and then does everything in his power to make it happen.

Barbara Gallagher said...

I think that you are right in your comment that Macbeth's fate relies on his actions for the witches' prophecies to come true. They are the supernatural force that convinces Macbeth of his superiority. I also agree that we each have individual responses that create our futures for which we are responsible. This is the way Banquo thought, yet Macbeth eagerly agreed with the ideas that he had a noble future. Unfortunately, his evil deeds led to his unraveling and ultimately his death.

Cyrus Mulready said...

One of the things I like about this play is that it feels very contemporary--the idea that we are in control of our fate and that we have the power to determine our own outcome is very much in a modern vein. So, too, is the idea that this creates a kind of hopelessness, that if we live in a world without God then we alone bear the responsibility for our fate. Macbeth explores this all, though of course in a tragedy...and so perhaps we are warned away from such nihilism. But are we also to see Macbeth as a hero for the way he faces his fate?