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Free Will in Macbeth Essay


Throughout the story of Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, Macbeth acts in a much despised manner: he becomes a murderer and later, when king of Scotland, a tyrant. Many who have read or seen the play are left wondering how a mans whole approach to life can change; how Macbeth turned from the hero whom all adored, to the tyrant who was hated and ended up a lone man, fighting for his life.

Within the play, Macbeth is influenced by many: the witches; his wife, Lady Macbeth; possibly Hecate, Goddess of the Underworld; and his own desire to be crowned king. The question is: was he just influenced by them, and acted upon his own choice and free-will; or did they control him, forcing him to act against his wishes against his free will?

Firstly, there are the witches, who are first to give Macbeth the idea of kingship. When they are first met, they are gathered in a desolate place during a ferocious storm. This alone creates tension, even before the witches speak, as many fear thunder and lightening; when the play was written, thunder was considered to be God showing his anger.

When speaking the witches say, in line 12,Fair is foul, and foul if fair, later in scene 3 Macbeth describes the day: So foul and fair a day. This repetition may illustrate a link between Macbeth and the witches: these are words not commonly used together as they are an oxymoron. However, in this case, there use could be considered just: a surprising coincidence. The witches may be saying that it is disgraceful to be fair to people, but perfectly reasonable to be foul to people, showing their lust for trouble making. Macbeth may have meant that the weather is foul, as we already know there is a storm, but it is a good and fair day, Scotland is free and has won a war on two fronts.

Another such place where the witches seem to control Macbeth, is where they know that next time they meet, it will be Upon the heath/ There to meet with Macbeth. While this may show control, during the play the witches role is to prophesise and see the future. They may have seen Macbeth meeting them Upon the heath, and so knew it would happen without them having to act.

Later on, during Act I, Scene 5, Macbeth writes in his letter to Lady Macbeth: kings massives who all-hailed me Thane of Cawdor, by which title these we?rd-sisters referred me. Here, Macbeth seems to believe that he became Thane due to the witches prophecy, rather than his own actions. This could be said to show that he has become reliant on the witches, but not that the witches control him: he has chosen to trust him.

In the same letter Macbeth writes: What greatness is promised thee. He is laying all his trust with the witches, believing that no matter what happens they [he and Lady Macbeth] will become the rulers of Scotland. Once again, he is choosing to trust them: they have not forced him to do anything.

In Act ii, Scene 1, Macbeth says during a soliloquy in lines 33 64: Is this a dagger I see before me/let me clutch thee/I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. Is the dagger a dagger of the mind (l.38), or a prank from the witches? It is impossible to know, however, the sight of this mysterious blood- covered dagger causes Macbeth to delve deep into evil thoughts and rumours: Wicked dreams abuse/pale Hecates off rings, and withered murder,/ With Tarquins ravishing strides. If the witches made the dagger, is also possible that they made Macbeth think evil thoughts to terrorise his mind further, adding to the fear and confusion his thoughts already contained: dominating his mind, giving him no chance to rethink and not kill Duncan. If this was the case, while the witches were controlling Macbeths mind, they were not in charge of his actions. Macbeth still had the choice of whether to kill or not. This choice means Macbeth still had free-will: choice is a synonym for free-will.

Within Act iii, Scene 4 the Macbeths are attempting normality: they are hosting a dinner in their own home, but nothing goes to plan; the ghost of Banquo appears to Macbeth. It is unclear whether the ghost is real, a hallucination from Macbeths guilty conscience or the witches. If a creation of the witches, the ghost is yet another ploy to scare Macbeth: and it works. The first thing he says upon seeing the ghost is: Thou canst say I did it. He immediately speaks his innocence, thus, ironically, proving his guilt. The scene is important as it is the beginning of a downward spiral for Macbeth. The lords are led to wonder for the first time about Macbeths suitability as king: is he mad, as Lady Macbeth claims or hiding a secret- what was it he did not do? Either is not a good quality in a king.

Near the end of the play, in Act iv, Scene 1, Macbeth seeks out the witches and asks to know more of his future; But one word more (l.84). The witches show him four apparitions, each one a warning. One instructs him to fear Macduff; one tells him that only a man not born of a woman can kill him; one tells him that he is safe until Great Birnam Wood to High Dunsnain Hill/ Shall come The final apparition tells him that Banquos descendants will be kings. All the apparitions serve to make Macbeth feel safe: he now believes he is immortal, having chosen to take what the witches said literally. The witches speak in fiddles, but he, Macbeth, chooses to interpret them in a way that suits him. Some argue that the witches are controlling Macbeth at this point as, for example, after warning of Macduff, he has all Macduffs family killed: The castle of Macduff I will surprise/give to thedge o th sword/ His wife, his babes Macbeth does as he believes the witches instruct; if they had not mentioned Macduff, he would not have had Macduffs family killed. However, it must be remembered that the witches just said to look out for Macduff, not to kill him. Macbeth has free-will as he chooses to kill: no-one has forced him.

Macbeths wife, Lady Macbeth also appears to have some control over her husband, though this lessens dramatically throughout the play. When Lady Macbeth is first met, in act I, scene 5, she is reading a letter from Macbeth informing her of his new thanedom, and the witches prophecy. At hearing the news of possible kingship she immediately decides to take action; she wants the power of the monarchy.

Lady Macbeth seems to be the dominant one in her and Macbeths relationship, and uses this control to over her husband to her advantage: look like thinnocent flower/But be the serpent undert . Here Lady Macbeth has taken control in a way unlike other women in the patriarchal society in which Macbeth is set. She instructs Macbeth to welcome the royal party, but still to stay true to his word and kill the king. Macbeth will follow her bidding as he loves her deeply:partners (iv, 1). She is in charge of her own future and will strive to survive and achive her goal; in this case, to become Queen. During this scene Macbeth still has free-will; however Lady Macbeth highly influences him: he feels that he must prove here wrong- prove he is a man.

In Act I, Scene 7, Macbeth, during a long soliloquy, argues with his conscience: killing Duncan will result in vengeance, heaven itself will loathe the deed, yet his ambitions spurs him on, his greed and want of becoming king. This indecision is only thwarted by Lady Macbeth, who uses all her power to make Macbeth kill: Such I account thy love/And live a coward in thine own esteem. Here she is saying that Macbeth cannot possibly love her, reasoning that if he could say he would do something then change his mind, every thing he says must just be words, and not really mean anything: that he does not really mean it when he claims to love her. To prove his love, Macbeth feels that he must go through with his plans to kill the king, succumbing to his wifes emotional blackmail.

Further alone within the same conversation, Lady Macbeth implies that Macbeth is not a real man: break this enterprise to me? /When you durst do it, then you were a man. She is encouraging Macbeth to kill the king by telling him that when he was going to kill, he was a real man, however, now that he is backing out he is not a man, as men do not break their word: manhood was very important aspect of life during the patriarchal society in which the play is set.

From this point onwards, however, her control greatly diminishes, as seen in act iii, scene 2. Macbeth has decided, on his own, to kill Banquo and Fleance, and talks of more killings: We have scorched the snake, not killed it. Unlike her husband, Lady Macbeth does not want to kill again. She tries to persuade Macbeth to let them die naturally, as they have achieved their goal; they are king and queen: But in them Natures copys not eterne. Macbeth ignores this, and throughout the rest of the play cares less and less for his wife. Her control only lasted during the murder of Duncan: it only lasted until she got what she wanted: to be queen.

By the end of the play, Macbeth cares so little for Lady Macbeth that upon hearing of her death, does not ask how she died, or show any remorse. He just says; She should have died hereafter/There would have been time for such a word.

Act iii, scene 5 has had many arguments about it: whether or not it was actually written by Shakespeare, and so it is not always included in performances. If the scene is not included, Macbeth acted on his own free-will throughout; if the scene is included, Macbeth had no free-will and was under the witches control.

The scene shows the witches having more power than they originally had: in act I, scene1 they could only persuade, cause trouble, torment and play on human emotion; though his bark cannot be lost/yet it shall be tempest tossed. The witches can not control or kill. In this scene however, they are able to kill; Hecate states that she will destroy Macbeth: This night Ill spend/Unto a dismal and fatal end. They also appear to have more power than previously when Hecate tells them to At the pit of Acheron/Meet me ithmorninghe/Will come Hecate seems to be able to control Macbeth; the emphasis on will implies that she will make him go to Acheron, rather then predicting that he will travel there by his own choosing.

The idea that witches could control was perfectly reasonable at the time, so it could be believed that Macbeth had no free-will, as it was concidered that witches possessed that power to demonically control anyone of their choosing. This idea is contradictory as, only witches could control others, but during the play theses three characters are only referred to as we?rd-sisters not witches.

Macbeth is a play about ambition: the ruthless seeking after power by Macbeth; I have no spur/To prick the sides of my intent, but only/Vaulting ambition (I, 7, 25-27). After the witches put the idea of being king into Macbeths head, he decides to become monarch.

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