Fate

Some people believe that there is a certain path that has already been set out for us, and nothing we do in life can change this. Do you believe in fate, or do you think the choices you make shape your life?

Do you think Macbeth has a choice in what happens to him or do you think the Witches make things happen with their evil magic?

Analysis of fate in the play

Question

How do the Witches show the theme of fate in Macbeth?

The Witches predict that Macbeth will become king. Ross arrives shortly after to announce that Macbeth has been given the title of Thane of Cawdor. The Witches may have overheard the news before, or it may just have been coincidence. As a result, however, Macbeth believes the Witches and can’t stop thinking about being king. He does become king, just as the prophecy stated, but the Witches didn’t tell him he had to kill King Duncan first. He chooses to do that himself.

When Macbeth meets the Witches for the first time on the heath, they say:

First Witch
All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis.
Second Witch
All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor.
Third Witch
All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter.
Act 1 Scene 3
Question

How does Shakespeare show Macbeth trying to cheat fate?

Macbeth tries to cheat fate by killing Banquo. The Witches predict that Banquo’s children will be the future kings. Macbeth feels cheated. He has damned himself for someone else’s children. He wants to believe in fate when the predictions suit him, but he decides that he can cheat fate when it’s something that he doesn’t like! He manages to have his friend assassinated, but unfortunately for Macbeth, Fleance escapes.

Macbeth decides that he will fight fate, rather than allow Banquo’s children to be kings:

Macbeth
Rather than so, come Fate into the list,
And champion me to th’ utterance.
Act 3 Scene 1
Question

What is a consequence of Macbeth trying to cheat fate?

Hecate is disgusted at Macbeth’s arrogance in trying to cheat fate and sets out to cruelly destroy him.

Macbeth has meddled with black magic and as a final lesson Hecate enjoys teaching Macbeth that he can’t cheat fate. This mirrors Banquo’s advice in Act I Scene 3, that the Witches might hook Macbeth with initial promises then finally destroy him.

She promises to put together a spell to confuse and trick Macbeth:

Hecate
He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear
His hopes 'bove wisdom, grace, and fear.
And you all know, security
Is mortals' chiefest enemy.
Act 3 Scene 5
Question

How does Hecate use fate to trick Macbeth?

The Witches’ riddles make Macbeth believe that he is invincible, but in fact the Witches are talking about Macduff’s fate. Macduff was born to destroy Macbeth. This is Hecate’s joke.

Hecate says:

Hecate
none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth.
Act 4 Scene 1

Macbeth ignored the Witches’ warning to Beware Macduff. As fate will have it, Macduff is the one man who can destroy him. Macbeth dies as he has lived: violently.

When Macbeth relates this warning to Macduff on the battlefield Macduff replies:

Macduff
Macduff was from his mother's womb
Untimely ripped.
Act 5 Scene 8

You can find the theme of fate in lots of Shakespeare’s plays:

  • look at Romeo and Juliet for a pair of lovers whose tragic fate is set in the stars from the very beginning
  • look at Julius Caesar for men who fight knowing that their fate is certain death