Fate is defined as “a power that is considered to cause and control all events, so that people cannot change or control the way things will happen”. Although this, and the article “Bargains with Fate: The Case of Macbeth” on the same concept by psychologist Bernard Paris, attempt to answer the question of if a person needs to act on what must be done for fate to become reality, it still leaves it completely up to interpretation. The vagueness of this definition is further exemplified in Shakespeare’s Macbeth as Macbeth struggles to obtain the fate of becoming king that was professed to him by a group of witches. His wife fights to help him achieve this destiny, sacrificing both of their moral compasses in the process as they kill person after person. Shakespeare does not believe in the idea of fate because he shows Macbeth using his free will to reach his fate as told by the witches, who are not portrayed as being reliable sources of information.
The three witches are set apart from the other characters in Macbeth as soon as they are introduced. Their language and forms of verse, with different emphasis and the occasional inclusion of rhymes, create a sense of mystery and a possibility of malevolent intentions. During the late middle ages, in which Macbeth was set and written, witches were widely distrusted, being blamed for illness, death, and misfortune. Apart from the influence of the bias of the time, the question remains of whether or not the witches can be trusted. Only four of their prophecies are acted on in the play, with the one not shown being Banquo’s children taking the throne. Their other prophecies, including that Macbeth will become king, that he should “beware Macduff,” he cannot be harmed by anyone born of a woman, and cannot be defeated until “Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane shall come,” show great skill in relaying prophecies, but it is still uncertain if anything was preordained. Additionally, the declaration that Macbeth should “[b]e bloodly, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn the power of man, for none of woman born shall harm [him],” from the second apparition seems to be a trick to lead Macbeth into being overly confident. He makes decisions that end up hurting him as Macduff, whose mother apparently died and had a Cesarean section, ends up killing him. This deceiving prediction that Macbeth will not be overthrown creates doubt in their reliability, and therefore in the truth of fate in the entire play.
Macbeth decides with his own free will that he will murder Duncan and many others in order to achieve his possible destiny. The witches’ first prophecy, describing how Macbeth will become king of Scotland and Banquo’s children will hold this same power, illustrates a version of Macbeth’s future that he was already ambitious about achieving, therefore bringing up the question of whether that future was really fate or just Macbeth taking their idea and running with it. In other words, did the witches encourage Macbeth to construct a future that was perhaps not preordained? During the duration of the play, the reader observes Macbeth simply shaping his decisions around what his fate has been claimed to be, rather than waiting to see if it will play out on its own. According to Paris’s psychological examination of fate, “[t]he narcissistic person feels that if he holds onto his dreams and to his exaggerated claims for himself, life is bound to give him what he wants,” so that a person believes that they are sure to achieve what they desire (Paris). Macbeth’s previous, and perhaps narcissistic, desire to become king leads him to completely trust that the witches’ prophecies are true because this is exactly what he had wanted to hear, even stating that “two truths are told” immediately after hearing their first proclamation. Macbeth’s own character and human motivation, not his prescribed fate, are what lead him to commit the deeds he does and to continue to kill in order to get what he and Lady Macbeth want.
Through his creative choices in Macbeth and even in his other popular plays, Shakespeare shows his opinion on the reality of the existence of “fate.” In Macbeth, this is apparent through the untrustworthiness of the witches, who just convince Macbeth to commit the acts that he does based on their prophecies and his preconceived ambitions. Their unreliability offsets the possibility that the fates they described were true and would have played out whether or not Macbeth killed Duncan and others. Although, due to the norms of his time, Shakespeare was likely a Catholic who believed in God’s path, it is apparent from the ideas presented in his play that he had a bias against the idea of fate.