Essay Fate Macbeth

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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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In many of Shakespeare’s plays there exists relationships between characters; these relationships in many cases influence the direction in which the play goes. In Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” the everlasting relationship between Macbeth and the three witches is the foundation of the entire plot. When Macbeth meets the witches, he views them as honest sisters of fate and believes in them quickly. The witches having established contact with the protagonist indirectly affect and transform his beloved wife. Towards his demise Macbeth finally realizes how the witches have heinously betrayed him.

From the very start of the play the witches establish how important Macbeth is to their evil scheme: “There to meet with Macbeth.” It is from this moment that a permanent link is established between Macbeth and the witches. “A drum, a drum, Macbeth doth come!” The witches use extraordinary equivocation when speaking: “hail to thee, thane of Glamis/ hail to thee, thane of Cawdor/ All hail, Macbeth! that shalt be king hereafter.” Macbeth is confused, he is the thane of Glamis but not of Cawdor, and he is not the king. When Macbeth receives news of his promotion, he immediately believes in the witches’ prophecies: “The greatest is behind-Thanks for your pains.”

Macbeth is also very fond of the witches as they awaken his dormant vaulting ambition to be king. He cannot forget the meeting that he had with them: “My thought, whose murder is yet but fantastical, shakes so my very single state of man that function is smothered in surmise, and nothing is but what is not.” Macbeth very quickly believes whole heartily without any shred of proof, it is unimaginable how the witches could manipulate one who is supposed to be “Valliant”. Macbeth trusts in the witches to an extent that he starts to suspect people who are close to him, even his brother in arms: “We would spend it in some words upon that business, if you would grant the time.” It is quite clear that Macbeth has become increasingly paranoid due to his evolving relationship with the three weird sisters.

Throughout the whole play the witches are in Macbeth’s mind corrupting him even further. Lady Macbeth is no exception: “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty!” Notice how Lady Macbeth uses the word crown, this shows that the witches, in form of spirits, have filled Lady Macbeth with ambition more vaulting than Macbeth’s ambition. Under the influence of the witches she is driven to extreme measures: “Come, thick night, and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell.” One would not have imagined that the witches’ power would have extended to influence humans to bow to the devil indirectly.

The witches may also appear in many different forms, this has already been witnessed by the audience: “I come, Graymalkin!”/ “Paddock calls.” When Duncan arrives at Macbeth’s castle the witches are present in a way. They are present in Lady Macbeth’s fake attitude towards the King: “Your majesty loads our house: for those of old, and the late dignities heaped up to them, we rest your hermits.” It is noticeable that Lady Macbeth speaks somewhat like the witches in rhyme this shows the extent of the power of the three weird sisters and how solid their relationship is with the Macbeths.

The power of the witches does not cease to guide Macbeth further along the path of hell: “Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.” A deadly illusion is created before Macbeth in order to make sure that he does not sway from his hell-bound vaulting ambition to become king. This is the most solid proof yet that the relationship between Macbeth and the witches is the triggers, the most important events in the play: the murder of the gracious King Duncan.

Having fully fulfilled the prophecies of the witches, the relationship between Macbeth and these ministers of evil continues to grow evermore, leading Macbeth even closer to his demise: “How now, you secret, black, and midnight hags!” Notice the normal, familiar, even demanding tone that Macbeth uses with the witches. This emphasizes how close Macbeth and the witches are, or so does Macbeth think. The witches corrupt Macbeth even further by showing him three apparitions: “Come, high or low; thyself and office deftly show.”

The apparitions were the cornerstone of the witches’ evil scheme; they further trick and blind Macbeth from the truth making him think that he is invincible, and hence deceiving him: “for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth”/ “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him.” It is here where we see the true face of the relationship between the witches and Macbeth as it really is: a deceptive, manipulating and equivocating one. This is never seen by Macbeth himself, which influences the story even more.

To show the audience how the relationship between Macbeth and the witches is important to the plot of the play he breaks down their relationship at the climax of the play: “I looked toward Birnam, and anon, methought the wood began to move.” The first brutal betrayal by the witches came at a time when Macbeth was already in turmoil due to the death of his partner in greatness. It is at this moment when an epiphany strikes Macbeth and shows him the true nature of the witches in which he placed so much of his trust: “I pull in resolution, and begin to doubt the equivocation of the fiend that lies like truth.”

Even when he is near to the moment of death, Macbeth still carries little belief of what the witches had previously told him: “Thou wast born of woman; but swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn, brandished by man that’s of a woman born.” This proves how intact the relationship between Macbeth and the weird sisters was; even after discovering that they betrayed him. Macbeth still clings to the one prophecy that he hopes to be true. This fool’s hope is ripped away by Macduff: “Macduff was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped.” The solid, seemingly unbreakable relationship between Macbeth and the witches has finally broken down completely proving that it was futile from the start.

This play is no exception to the fact that relationships are important and affect the story of Shakespeare’s plays. If it was not for the doomed relationship between the witches and Macbeth the play might not have been a tragedy at all. This bond between Macbeth and these minsters of evil serves as the cornerstone of the entire play and a crucial catalyst to the plot. It could be said that the relationship was forged before the fatal meeting and started to decide the fate of the plot and of Macbeth.

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