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Who is Responsible for the Downfall of Macbeth?

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1093 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Your essay topic for Macbeth is about fate or free will. Who is responsible for the downfall of Macbeth? Was it himself or was it due to the witches?

Philosophers have been contemplating the idea of fate and free will for thousands of years now. It is unfortunately extremely difficult and conceivably even inexplicable. Theoretically however, there is a distinct line, boundary separating free will and fate. Free will reside within one’s individualities; it relates to the present. The how and when, experiences that are in our controls that are free will.  However, human beings do not have immortality, so one will never be capable enough to circumvent dying which is fate. In Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, the title character, Macbeth grapples with fate and the idea of free will when it comes to his downfall. However, this dilemma is sparked by the presence of the witches; they exist primarily to provoke evil and remove the free will of many including Macbeth. These witches are in control of Macbeth throughout the play through their predictions and chants. As can be seen, these witches serve as the stimulant for Macbeth’s tragic downfall because of their notorious, infamous reputation.

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Unquestionably, the witches’ predictions act as a catalyst for Macbeth’s descent into immortality, with Duncan’s murder as his first act. For the first time, the witches have made their presence felt in the world of men. One of the witches describes how she will “give thee a wind” in order to punish a sailor because his wife would not give her some of the chestnuts she was eating, but he still gets to keep his ‘bark,’ or his ship. This shows how dangerous and spiteful these witches are and how they are not a force to be reckoned with. However, there are still limitations to the witches’ powers in how they were not able to sink the ship, for example. The ship in this case represents State of Scotland, which will soon be under Macbeth’s rule; here, they will can only create the climate for evil; to illustrate, their misleading prophecies and the persuasiveness of Lady Macbeth will eventually cloud Macbeth’s judgment. This is evident when it all came down to Duncan’s murder when Macbeth believed that there was no turning back to what he had done and he begins to hallucinate: “hold, take my sword. There’s husbandry in heaven. Their candles are all out. Take thee that too. A heavy summons lies like lead upon me” (Shakespeare 19); he was beginning to feel guilty about killing Duncan and this guilt was beginning to gradually take over his life, to control life, just like the three witches had in the past. Clearly, it seems as though the presence of the three witches can be felt throughout the play, especially throughout Macbeth’s tragic downfall.

Additionally, the witches’ prophecies have a powerful effect on Macbeth in that they yet again lead him to another murder. Even his close friendship to Banquo was not strong enough to shield him from Macbeth’s suspicion and his view of him as a threat. His “fears in Banquo stick deep, and in his royalty nature reigns that which would be feared” (Shakespeare 59). Clearly, the witches play a crucial role in Macbeth’s change, due to their prophecies and apparitions; they begin to make him question his own friend, his own companion, Banquo and even go to kill him. However, their influence is actually prevalent throughout the play, not only when it comes to Banquo’s death, but with their first meeting.  Their first meeting made Macbeth appear gullible and vulnerable, easy to manipulate, especially when he wanted to know more from them: ‘stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more” (Shakespeare 23). This meant that the witches had a lot of power and influence over MacBeth’s actions and were able to successfully manipulate him. Duncan’s murder was the first terrible act unlike him, one that was evoked by the witches, and also one that would hasten his downfall. As can be seen, the witches play a crucial role in Macbeth’s downfall and even the slightest manipulation of Macbeth by the witches hastens it.

Additionally, it was also the witches’ predictions that gave Macbeth a false sense of invincibility and power, which would eventually lead to his own downfall. By way of illustration, when Macbeth went back to see the witches, they ended up telling him more about the prophecy:”all hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!…thou shalt get kings, though thou be none. So, all hail, Macbeth and Banquo” (Shakespeare 5). After this Macbeth felt invincible because every human must have been born of a woman. That lead him to his death because after he let his guard down because he felt invincible Macduff exclaimed that he was not born of a woman because his mother did not have a natural birth. This then leads to Lady Macbeth provoking Macbeth to gain great power and succeed to the throne. Lady Macbeth believes that Macbeth is too soft, “too full of the milk of human kindness” (Shakespeare 13), much like the milk a baby drinks when it is young and innocent; thus, by finding his weak spot and manipulating him, she gets him to murder Duncan and succeed to the throne. Despite the fact that Lady Macbeth plays a part in Macbeth’s downfall, the witches are also an important factor and are essentially responsible for his tragic downfall. It can be said that without the witches the play may not continue or even be created; they play such a crucial role in Macbeth’s own downfall and set the plot.

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In Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, one idea that is quite prevalent is the idea of fate versus free will when it comes to Macbeth’s downfall. The three witches are in control of Macbeth throughout the play with their predictions and their ability to see into the future that ultimately remove Macbeth’s free will and render him in a helpless and vulnerable state. Clearly, these witches serve as the stimulant for Macbeth’s tragic downfall because of their notorious, infamous reputation. Although some may argue that Macbeth’s downfall was not his fault and that he was just another victim of the witches, one can never know. In this tragedy, it appears that the witches had quite an influence on him and because of that, they hastened his downfall.

Work Cited:

  • Shakespeare, William, et al. Macbeth. Oxford University Press, 2015.


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