Macbeth is considered one of the greatest and shortest tragedies that William Shakespeare has ever written. Similar to his tragic heroes like Othello and Hamlet, Macbeth was initially portrayed as a courageous hero who had defeated the kingdom’s enemy. However, in this story, Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, served more like the villains who were driven by ambition for the throne which ultimately led to their death.
Nonetheless, there is a much more conflicting idea in this story than the concept of Macbeth taking Duncan’s throne; and that is the conflicting purpose of fate and freewill with regards to Macbeth’s decisions and ultimate downfall. Macbeth’s motivation obviously started from the early predictions of the three witches in Act I, Scene 3; therefore, fate has a lot to do with the way he reacted upon the prophecies of the witches. “First Witch: All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis” (Shakespeare 5)!
The first witch praises Macbeth as his current title as thane of Glamis. “Second Witch: All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor” (Shakespeare 5)! The second witch predicts his future title as thane of Cawdor. “Third Witch: All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter” (Shakespeare 5)! The third witch’s prediction as king is what triggered the murderous move that Macbeth and his wife would later carry out to King Duncan. “If chance will have me King, why, chance may crown me / Without my stir” (Shakespeare 8).
This line proves the conflict between the theme of fate and freewill in Macbeth. Macbeth is initially skeptic about the witches’ prophecies and even comes to the point of allowing fate to run its course in his life. Evidence of Macbeth’s freewill as the guilty suspect is later revealed when he committed the murder of King Duncan. Since Macbeth is an ambitious man who cannot find contentment in being given the title of Thane of Cawdor, he and his wife Lady Macbeth focus on how to realize the dream to obtain the kingship of Scotland.
His greed and ambitious personality is established in his line: “I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself / And falls on the other” (Shakespeare 26). Therefore, when the second witch’s prophecy is transformed into reality by him succeeding the title of Thane of Cawdor, he finally believes that to be “King” is his destiny and uses this as his motivation to decide into the direction of his “fate”—to be king. Yet, one can claim that Macbeth can also be a victim of his wife’s authoritative personality which is observed to be a major factor in his decisions.
Macbeth is presented as weak and not yet fully-developed as a man for it can be noticed that Lady Macbeth has dominance over him when she convinced him to murder their king. However, in Act I, Scene 5, Macbeth uses his “destiny” as a scapegoat to justify his evil plans where he delivers one of his soliloquies: “If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well / It were done quickly: if the assassination / Could trammel up the consequence, and catch / With his surcease success; that but this blow / Might be the be-all and the end-all here” (Shakespeare 15).
This line shows how Macbeth tries to justify his future murder of Duncan to be only of accordance to his fate. He blames his pursuance of his fate as the primary motivator of his actions. However, it is quite possible for him to just stick to his initial belief and let fate run its course in his life; but it is obvious that when he murdered the king, he used his freewill because he could have just waited for the kingship if he really believes it is his fate. Instead, he is as ambitiously desperate just as the Lady Macbeth so they plot the murder for the immediate attainment of the throne.
Another soliloquy illustrates the presence of freewill in Act III Scene 1 where he finally succumb to his desires and claims that fate has nothing to do with his future evil plans to Banquo. “For Banquo’s issue have I filed my mind; / For them the gracious Duncan have I murder’d; / Put rancours in the vessel of my peace / Only for them; and mine eternal jewel / Given to the common enemy of man, / To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings! / Rather than so, come fate into the list. / And champion me to the utterance! Who’s there! ” (Shakespeare 54).
Macbeth’s weakness in character and decision-making also adds up to the disorganized murders that he and his wife have committed. It is hard for Macbeth to plot the murder properly because his personal motives for killing his king only accounts to his greedy ambition for the throne. He knows that killing Duncan is wrong but he resorted to it; therefore validating the fact that he acts based on freewill. He is also not strong enough to stand up to his wife when he could have just chosen to fight for what he thinks is decent and right.
Consequently, with Macbeth consistently asking “what if they fail? ” led to his own downfall. It is now clear that Macbeth acted on freewill but his decisions are deemed tragic due to his weak personality as well. The fact that he allows the witches and Lady Macbeth to manipulate his decisions easily is a sign that he has freewill and has chosen to act upon it.
Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. United States of America: Courier Dover Publications, 1993