Fate and The Supernatural in Macbeth

Essay by wishforviolet May 2009

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What will, and will not, happen in the future can never be known for certain, but what if the possibility was available? Believable or not, Shakespeare portrays the role of fate in Macbeth and the significance of the supernatural. In the play, Macbeth is given prophecies concerning his fate from the weird sisters, three witches who represent the supernatural throughout the play. Macbeth’s belief in the witches’ prophecies leads him to commit immoral actions. The guilt that overcomes Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is, again, the work of the witches’ prophecies about Macbeth’s fate. Macbeth's over confidence in his fate and in the supernatural is misplaced. All these elements lead to the demise of Macbeth.

In the beginning of the play, the witches are chanting and discussing the fate of Macbeth. Witches are creatures of the supernatural, they’ve seen the future and have decided to use what they know to manipulate and have some fun with Macbeth.

To do this, deliver prophecies, one of them informing him of his future rein over Scotland. At first, Macbeth is not convinced of the truth in their words, this is evident when he says, “The thane of Cawdor lives, a prosperous gentleman; and to be king stands not within the prospect of belief, no more than to be Cawdor.” (1, 3, 75-78). Macbeth does not believe he will become king because he has not yet learned he has been named the new thane of Cawdor. When he learns the second prophecy of the witches is true, he starts to believe that what the weird sisters are saying is true and in the reality that being king is his fate. At this point his ambition to secure his fate and become king leads Macbeth to commit immoral and dishonourable crimes. Macbeth's first grand betrayal is to Duncan, by seeing to his murder while he is staying a guest in Macbeth's own home. If that wasn't enough Macbeth and Lady Macbeth blame the murder on the kings innocent grooms and kills them as well. Later in the play, Macbeth orders for the death of Banquo showing his continued belief in the supernatural powers of the witches and his insecurities about his future as king. While Macbeth awaits the news of Banquo’s death, he begins to shiw anxiety and guilt. That night, during the dinner Macbeth is hosting, he sees the ghost of Banquo in his seat. He becomes extremely bewildered and anxious and has a great outburst, he demands to know who is playing some kind f joke on him and states, "Thou canst not say I did it." (3, 4, 63), claiming he cannot be blamed since he didn't commit the murder himself. The hallucination of seeing the ghost of Banquo is a response to his attempt to repress his guilty conscience and bury it deep inside him. Also, in the time period the play was written, it was believed that ghosts would only appear before those whom are guilty of the murder. This is significant because many believed in the supernatural, and it is a sign of the supernatural. The hallucinations were brought upon Macbeth to show that he is slowly going mad. This shows that Shakespeare is using the ghost to make Macbeth feel vulnerable, and to deepen his belief in what the witches tell him. Another character that we see show signs of hallucination is Lady Macbeth. She shows signs of her guilt while sleepwalking, she believes her hands are covered in blood and that they can never be washed clean. This is made apparent when she says, “What, will these hands ne’er be clean?” (5, 1, 40). The Macbeths struggle with their guilt over what they've done under the guidance of the weird sisters for a majority of the play. Though, Hecate and the weird sisters only want Macbeth to be slightly doubtful of his fate for a certain amount of time.

The witches plan to take their little game to the next level and harden Macbeth's sense of security. This can be seen when Hecate says, “Shall draw him on to his confusion: he shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear his hopes ‘bove wisdom, grace, and fear: and you all know security is mortals’ chiefest enemy.” (3, 5, 29-33). This shows that Hecate wants the witches tomake Macbeth feel over-confident and make his faith in their powers even sounder. Macbeth arrives and wants to know more about his destiny, the witches use their supernatural abilities to put on a show and conjure three apparations that speak of Macbeth's fate. The second apparition is a baby. The significance of this is in what it says to Macbeth; “for none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” (4, 1, 86-87). This shows how the witches use a double meaning to make Macbeth feel superior. Macbeth interprets the the message to mean that nothing human can kill him, making him believe he is basically invincible and nobody can take his crown. In his final scene, he is confronted by Mcduff, Macbeth is confident, resting assured that he is safe from harm, he reveals this to Macduff by claiming; “I bear a charmed life, which must not yield to one of woman born.” (5, 8, 15-16). Shakespeare is showing Macbeth's complete faith in his place as king. The point of this is to show that things aren't always as they seem and that fate isn't always what we expect. Macbeth is mislead by the witches and their promises of his destiny, and it leads to his destruction.

In conclusion, fate plays a very significant role in Macbeth. All the events which occur are rooted in the prophecies made by the witches. Macbeth's need to secure his fate according to the prophecies leads him to corruption. Macbeth shows guilt over his attempt at controlling his fate. Macbeth is misguided in his certainty that his fate is sealed just as he perceives. Most, if not all, the events that occur in the play have to do with the power of fate and the supernatural. What is learned from Macbeth is that fate is a tricky concept that doesn't tend to turn out the way it's envisioned.

Works CitedRoy, Ken. Macbeth. Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1988.