Argument Topics in Macbeth on Fate & Free Will
"Macbeth" by William Shakespeare addresses the major theme of fate versus free will. Shakespeare doesn't take a strong stance either way and wants the audience to contemplate whether the three witches determine Macbeth's outcome or whether Macbeth's selfish motives and his wife's headstrong ambition lead to their ultimate ruin. Use dialogue, important scenes and character interactions to support your argument.
Fate: Believability of the Witches
Examine the witches' language and supernatural abilities to determine if they have the power to seal Macbeth's fate. Consider whether their strange appearance, mysterious potions and disconcerting rhythmic speech are designed to manipulate and intimidate Macbeth or if they genuinely have the spiritual authority to determine his destiny. Verify the accuracy of events and evaluate the credibility of their predictions: Duncan's death, Macbeth's ascension, Banquo's death and Macduff's final revenge. Consider the weird sisters' connection to Hecate, the Greek goddess of witchcraft. Argue the credibility, believability and authenticity of the witches if you think fate is to blame for Macbeth's tragic ending.
Fate: Macbeth's Inability to Change the Future
Focus on Macbeth's inability to change the future -- according to the witches' predictions -- if you argue for "fate." Explain that Macbeth's waning conscience and short bursts of grief aren't powerful enough to overcome what the gods set in motion. Stress Macduff's involvement in Macbeth's death, just as the witches prophesied. There are many ways Macbeth could have died along the treacherous journey. His tragic ending at the hands of Macduff -- a man who fled to England to escape his own death -- seems unlikely without fate's involvement in bringing them back together again for one final scene.
Free Will: Macbeth's Lust for Power
Support the free-will argument by stressing Macbeth's undeniable lust for power and his willingness to go to extreme measures to gain and secure the throne. For example, Macbeth premeditated Duncan's murder and had time to back out before killing him. If the murder was ordained by fate, Macbeth wouldn't have experienced an inner struggle -- self-doubt, fear, guilt, grief and anguish -- before committing the crime. Even if the witches empowered Macbeth, their predictions were merely self-fulfilling prophesies. Ultimately, he made conscious decisions to murder Duncan, Banquo and Macduff's family, despite his nagging conscience.
Free Will: Lady Macbeth's Powerful Influence
Discuss Lady Macbeth's role in Macbeth's decision-making process as a reason to argue for free will. Lady Macbeth -- a mere human with a weak stomach and a guilt-ridden conscience -- had just as much of a negative effect on Macbeth as the witches did. She concocted the original plan to kill Duncan and persuaded Macbeth to follow through, even when he momentarily lost his courage. She worried that he wouldn't have the backbone to commit horrible crimes to steal the throne. The witches might have put the thought in Macbeth's head with their spellbinding, persuasive tactics, but Lady Macbeth put the plans to action. Macbeth willfully followed suit.
- PBS: Macbeth Synopsis
- Royal Shakespeare Company: Macbeth -- Full Synopsis
- No Sweat Shakespeare: Macbeth Play -- Overview & Resources
- Folger Shakespeare Library: Macbeth
- Boise State: Macbeth -- Part B Study the Play
- Utah Shakespeare Festival: Mabeth and the Nature of Evil; Elaine Pilkington
- Folger Shakespeare Library: Lady Macbeth
As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.