The Place of Fate in Macbeth
Shakespeare was wont to employ the supernatural force of fate throughout his tragic play Macbeth. Let us examine in this essay what we mean by the above statement.
In Everybody's Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack explains that the witches are associated with fate:
Except in one phrase (I.3.6) and in the stage directions, the play always refers to the witches as weyard - or weyward - sisters. Both spellings are variations of weird, which in Shakespeare's time did not mean "freakish," but "fateful" - having to do with the determination of destinies. Shakespeare had met with such creatures in Holinshed, who regularly refers to the supernatural agents with whom Macbeth has dealings as "the three sisters," or "the three weird sisters," i.e., the three Fates. (185)
L.C. Knights in the essay "Macbeth" explains the place of fate in the decline of Macbeth:
"One feels," says W.C. Curry, "that in proportion as the good in him diminishes, his liberty of free choice is determined more and more by evil inclination and that he cannot choose the better course. Hence we speak of destiny or fate, as if it were some external force or moral order, compelling him against his will to certain destruction." Most readers have felt that after the initial crime there is something compulsive in Macbeth's murders; and at the end, for all his "valiant fury," he is certainly not a free agent. He is like a bear tied to a stake, he says; but it is not only the besieging army that hems him in; he is imprisoned in the world he has made. (102)
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...