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Fate In Macbeth Essay

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Macbeth Essay: Fate In Macbeth Compared With The Greek Concept Of Fate




This is a free, sample college-level essay on the concept of fate in Macbeth. You can find additional essays on Macbeth using the search bar at the top of the page.



In Macbeth, the “weird sisters” are the voice of fate. The second of the witches’ predictions is that Macbeth will not be killed by a man born of a woman and will not be overcome until the woods move toward Dunsinane. In saying what will not happen, such negative predictions imply, and are understood by Macbeth to imply, a positive outcome, and in this respect they differ significantly from the dire utterances of the Greek oracles. Those oracles typically say “Beware!” They pronounce a horrible fate. They warn the hero of the dire events that will befall him: You will kill your father! You will marry your mother! Alas, poor Oedipus.



Even so the Greek utterances are equivocal. What the oracle means by “father” and “mother” is not what Oedipus understands by “father” and “mother,” since Oedipus is not only unaware of the identity of his true parents, he is also unaware that he is unaware.



Moreover (and this is the crucial part) the oracular utterances are deeply ironic because they explicitly warn against tragedy, and so encourage the hero to try to escape his tragic fate, yet that selfsame warning precipitates the tragedy: the hero meets his fate in the very act of trying to escape it.



The three witches in Macbeth, by contrast, effectively say “be happy!” They do not say “beware!” And they imply that Macbeth will avoid a negative fate. Yet they too are equivocal and ironic. Macbeth will be destroyed. They do not lie, and yet the truth of their utterance is other than it appears to be. That in fact is the answer to Banquo’s question, “Can the devil speak true?” Yes, the devil can speak the truth, but the truth of the devil’s speech is dissimulated by way of ambiguity. And a dissimulated truth is always ironic.



What we find in Macbeth, then, is an inversion of the irony of the classical, Greek oracular utterance. For the classical oracular utterance of Greek tragedy uses the ostensible warning to bring about the very things that it warns the hero against, while the witches in Macbeth use an ostensibly benign prediction to bring about the dire consequences that it keeps hidden from the hero.



In Greek tragedy we also find that fate uses the hero’s resistance to fate to accomplish that fate. The oracle says this horrible thing will happen. The hero resists that fate, and in resisting it actually brings it about. It is because Oedipus attempts to escape his fate that he ends up arriving at his fated end.



The witches in Macbeth are even more subtle than that. They use the hero’s desire for the end they claim is fated to him in order to bring about that fate, but the equivocation of the witches means that the accomplished fate is in fact horribly different from the fate Macbeth had expected. Technically, he gets what the witches had promised. He just misinterprets what they promise.



But the witches also use Macbeth’s incredulity toward fate in a certain respect. Macbeth of course does not try to flee from his fate, at least not initially. Instead, he tries to accomplish it. But he tries to accomplish it as the outcome of his own deliberate actions and not just as something that he is destined to achieve. In other words, the witches use the fact that Macbeth believes he is free of fate, which would amount to his being free to determine his own fate. They use that facet of his character against him.



They tell Macbeth he will be king, for example, and so Macbeth, desiring this fate, decides to bring it about himself, as though his fate were in his control. He desires his fate, but not as fate, not as the outcome that is merely fated to him. He wants the thing fated to him to be the achievement of his own will. But the witches use Macbeth’s belief in his own free will to bring about the opposite of what he wills. In this respect, Macbeth if like Oedipus. Oedipus’ effort to escape his fate is an attempt to make his future the outcome of his own will too, and that effort brings about the opposite of what he wills: the killing of his father, the marrying of his mother, and his own ruin.



In other words, although the operation of fate in Macbeth is an inversion of that which we find in Classical tragedy, the result is essentially the same. In both cases, what is fated comes about as a consequence of the hero’s resistance to fate.


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Fate in Macbeth

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Fate can be defined many different ways. Webster's Dictionary defines fate as a power that supposedly predetermines events. Fate is synonymous to the word destiny, which suggests that events are unavoidable and unchangeable. Whatever happens in life is meant to be and cannot be changed by mankind. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, fate plays an important role in the lives of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Banquo.
"All hail, Macbeth Hail to thee, thane of Glamis! All hail, Macbeth Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor! All hail, Macbeth Hail to thee, thou shall be King hereafter!" (1.3.49) The witches help fate out by giving Macbeth this information. If Macbeth had never known this, he would never have had the idea of becoming thane of Cawdor or king. This is the start to Macbeth's road to success and ultimate demise. It was predetermined by fate that Macbeth would believe the witches' words. When Macbeth does in fact become thane of Cawdor, he then believes fully in the witches and is willing to do anything it takes to become king.
This willingness to do whatever is necessary to become the king of Scotland is also what causes Macbeth to commit so many murders, the first of which is Duncan. In order for Macbeth to be king, the current king must die and his successors must be unavailable for the throne. Fate plays a huge hand in the way that Duncan's murder plays out. Duncan's two sons flee so that they will not be suspected of committing a crime that they did not, the murder of their own father. Because they have fled the country, it is Macbeth that is the one who may become king.
Fate also plays a role in the death of Macbeth. Because the witches were right about Macbeth's life the first time, he believed them a second time, which led to his death. They told him that he should watch out for MacDuff, that he could not be harmed by any man who was born of a woman, and that he would reign until Birnam wood came to Dunsinane hill. This gave Macbeth a false sense of security and made him think that no one could ever harm him. However, the weird sisters' twisted words gave fate the chance to cause Macbeth's ruin when an army concealed by the branches of Birnam wood came to Dunsinane hill to bring Macbeth down.

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Also, fate is carried out when Malcom, warned of Macbeth's evil ways, kills Macbeth. He is the only one who could kill Macbeth because he was not born by natural birth.
The witches also play a role in making Lady Macbeth convince Macbeth to commit the murders. The witches tell Macbeth that he will become thane of Cawdor as well as king of Scotland. When he tells this information to his wife, she begins to plot the murder of Duncan, something that would never have happened without the witches' words. Lady Macbeth herself also plays a role in the fate of Macbeth. She is ultimately the reason that the murder of Duncan is carried out and Macbeth is successfully not blamed for the murder. Macbeth has conflicting feelings about the murder of his friend and king, Duncan, but Lady Macbeth criticizes him, saying that he is not a man unless he goes through with murdering Duncan. Whenever Macbeth starts to show weakness, she is the fateful force that drives him to do the things that are planned out by fate.
Even though Lady Macbeth is a figure of fate herself, fate turns on her, causing her to go crazy and kill herself. She begins to feel remorse for what she caused Macbeth to do. She feels that she is ultimately to blame for all of the bad events that were caused by Duncan's murder, which she drove her husband to commit. Because she was destined to do this, she had no control over what happened. However, because she is a human form of fate, she has human feelings of remorse and pity for Duncan and all of the other people whose deaths were caused by this one act of fate. These human feelings are what eventually cause her demise.
Fate plays a role in the events in Banquo's life during the play. The witches also had a prophecy for Banquo in the beginning of the play. "Though shalt get kings, though thou be none" (1.3.67). Banquo's sons are destined to be kings, although Banquo will never be king. Later in the play Banquo is murderd by assassins hired by Macbeth. Macbeth hires these murderes because he feels threatened by Banquo and his son, Fleance. Macbeth orders the assassins to murder both of the men so that the treat to him will be gone. However, fate steps in and saves Fleance's life so that the witches' prophecies will be true. If fate had not had a role in this, either Banquo would have lived and caused Macbeth's evil plans to be uncoiled and caused his demise, or Fleance would have died like Macbeth wanted him to and the witches telling of fate would be wrong.
These three characters' lives have been predetermined by fate. Everything that happened to them or didn't happen to them was a direct result of fate's plan for them. This is also true in everyday life. There is no such thing as chance and everything
happens for a reason. It all comes back to fate. Nothing ever happens by coincidence and the power to chose is an illusion.