Shakespeare’s Macbeth poses the question: to what extent are we products of Fate? The impact of external forces and the ways in which we are beholden to them might lead us to believe that Macbeth is a product of the powers surrounding him that influence his behavior and force him down his path of wrongdoing. Macbeth could be a victim of Fate, unable to escape or claim agency, committing acts of evil—but at little to no fault of his own.
In the opening scene, we are introduced to the Weird Sisters; “weird” also seen as “weyard”, a word that scholars say meant “fate”. The implication of the sisters in mythology is that they ensure one’s fate is predetermined, feeding half-truths or partial information in order to manipulate the subject of their prophecies. “Imperfect speakers”, the witches incomplete prophecies leave room for an individual to royally mess-up, struggling to achieve a goal given in the prophecy, such as Macbeth becoming king—or alternatively, the half-truths could push the subject to do terrible things to avoid their fate, such as killing Banquo and attempting to kill Fleance. Macbeth’s actions could be, simply, a result of the witches’ prophecies, rendering his fate inevitable.
Another agent of Macbeth’s fate is Banquo. His ghost returns to haunt Macbeth, seen by the audience, a sign that Macbeth may have forfeited the reins to Fate, which now has control in its supernatural ways. Macbeth’s madness shows that killing Banquo was not Macbeth taking control of his fate and defying the prophecy of the witches, as he believed, but the opposite: Banquo returns to point out that Macbeth cannot escape. The scorpions of his mind have taken over his mental faculties. The ghost of Banquo appearing on stage makes the question of Macbeth’s responsibility for his actions a little more complex, and the answer more grey and undefinable.
Lady Macbeth is another “agent of Fate” who is inarguably the most influential and powerful force behind Macbeth’s actions, manipulating his behavior by challenging his masculinity and threatening the validity of his manhood with passionate speeches. “But screw your courage to the sticking-place, and we’ll not fail.” Lady Macbeth is oftentimes blamed for Macbeth’s decisions: the Eve to Adam, accused of being the person responsible for the fall of mankind—when Adam did, in fact, take the bite himself. Lady Macbeth, like Eve, could be characterized as the wicked temptress, inducing Macbeth to commit murder and pursue the ambitious goals of kingship. She definitely persuaded Macbeth—but the actions were ultimately his own. “And, to be more than what you were, you would be so much more the man.” Is Macbeth a victim of Fate? Maybe. His wife, however, is his dominant partner in crime—not his puppeteer. Macbeth could have had the desire and will lurking inside him, and just needed a figure like Lady Macbeth to draw it out and push him to great lengths. Unlike the supernatural qualities of the witches and Banquo, Lady Macbeth’s influence was straightforward and forceful. She did not conceal her desires or feed Macbeth half-truths. She encouraged him, challenged him, and let him carry out the deeds.
Ultimately, it is not clear whether Macbeth was doomed to his fate at the onset of the play—or brought it upon himself through his own actions. Regardless of Fate’s role, however, it is certain that evil deeds leave one diseased and crazy, allowing no peace of mind or cure from the guilt and sorrow.