The Concept of Fate in Macbeth
Literary critics disagree over the amount of leverage which fate exerted on the Macbeths in the Shakespearean drama Macbeth. Fate was quite influential, but it did not impair their free will; they remained free moral agents who ambitiously and voluntarily surrendered themselves to the evil suggestions of fate.
Macbeth: "If Chance would have me king, why, Chance may crown me without my stir."
A.C. Bradley in Shakespearean Tragedy references Fate in the play to the Witches' prophecies:
The words of the witches are fatal to the hero only because there is in him something which leaps into light at the sound of them; but they are at the same time the witness of forces which never cease to work in the world around him, and, on the instant of his surrender to them, entangle him inextricably in the web of Fate. (320)
Blanche Coles states in Shakespeare's Four Giants the place of Fate in Macbeth's life:
Then, like a cog slipping naturally into its own notch, his thoughts turn to the Witches and their prophecy, and he concludes that he has defiled his mind for the descendants of Banquo he has murdered the gracious Duncan for them; he has poisoned his own peace of mind and given his immortal soul (eternal jewel) to the devil, the common enemy of man - all this to make the descendants of Banquo kings! Rather than face such an outcome, he challenges Fate to enter the lists with him against Banquo and champion him to the last extremity, even though that extremity be death itself. (57)
In Fools of Time: Studies in Shakespearean Tragedy, Northrop Frye stresses the connection between the witches and fate:
The successful ruler is a combination of nature and fortune, de jure and de facto power. He steers his course by the tiller of an immediate past and by the stars of an immediate future. [. . .] It is this synchronizing of nature and fortune that soothsayers study, and that the witches in Macbeth know something about. We call it fate, which over-simplifies it. (88-89)
In his book, On the Design of Shakespearean Tragedy, H. S. Wilson explains the stand taken by Macbeth in his relationship with fate:
He pits himself no merely against the threat of hell but also against the enmity of "Fate" (as represented in the prophecies of the Weird Sisters):
come, Fate, into the list,
And champion me to th' utterance.
He brags to his wife:
But let the frame of tings disjoint, both the worlds suffer,
Ere we will eat our meal in fear [. . .]. (70-71)
The Tragedy of Macbeth opens in a desert place with thunder and lightning and three Witches who are anticipating their fateful meeting with Macbeth, "There to meet with Macbeth." They all say together the mysterious and contradictory "Fair is foul, and foul is fair." King Duncan learns that "brave Macbeth" and Banquo are bravely resisting the "Norweyan banners"...