Most people assume that their actions create their future. If they succeed, they believe that their hard work paid off. If they are not successful, they belief that their failure is their own fault. William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth provides an opposing thesis: that it is destiny that determines a person’s future. The play revolves around Macbeth, a nobleman whose futile attempt to go against his own prophecy ultimately leads to his downfall. When Macbeth meets the three witches, Shakespeare uses metaphor, imagery and tone to show that Macbeth is ultimately not in control of his own destiny. Shakespeare uses poetic and literary devices throughout Macbeth to make the case for believing in the power of fate over free will.Order now
Through the use of metaphor and imagery, the reader is shown that fate controls Macbeth’s future. On the way back from fighting a battle, After the witches give Macbeth his prophecy, Banquo questions why he has not received his own: “If you can look into the seeds of time and say which grain will grow and which will not, speak then, to me, who neither beg nor fear your favor nor your hate” (1.3.60-63). Banquo’s words symbolize the witches’ power in seeing the future and predicting fate. The seeds represent Banquo and Macbeth and the grains represent their future success.
The use of the seeds metaphor shows that both Banquo and Macbeth hope that the witches hold the power to see into the future. Humans always question what their future holds and Macbeth and Banquo are no different. If what the witches say is true, then both of their futures have been predetermined. If they are predetermined, then it must be fate. In addition to metaphor, Shakespeare uses imagery to support his idea of the power of fate. Just before Macbeth kills Duncan, Macbeth has a hallucination of a dagger floating in the air. The dagger is pointing in the direction of Duncan’s bedroom:
“I see thee yet, in form as palpable as this which I have now I draw thou marshall’st me the way that I am going as such an instrument I was to use. Mine eyes are made the fool o’ th’ or else worth the rest. I see thee still” (2.1.40-45)
Shakespeare uses imagery to paint a picture in the reader’s mind that represents both what is actually happening as well as to give an idea of what must be going through Macbeth’s own thoughts. In other words, the imagery is meant to show the reader Macbeth’s visions of a dagger. This dagger is bloody, suggesting that this bloody dagger seems to have already killed someone. Through this image, Macbeth surmises that his future involves killing the king, Duncan, so that Macbeth can take the position himself. Macbeth believes that this hallucination indicates his fate, and his belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that makes the vision come true. Both metaphor and imagery highlight the power of fate in Macbeth’s narrative.
The author’s tone also plays an important role in supporting the idea that fate is more powerful than free will. At the beginning of the play, the three Witches are telling Macbeth his future and what will happen to him: “All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Glamis!/ All hail Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!/ All hail Macbeth! Thou shalt be king hereafter!” (1.3.49-51). In this quote, Shakespeare not only uses an energetic tone, but he also uses repetition when the witches are talking to Macbeth. Each of the three witches repeats the same statement hailing Macbeth as the king.
By using this tone and repeating it three times the witches are unleashing Macbeth’s ambitions of kingly power. They are not simply telling Macbeth that he will someday be king; instead, they are treating him as if he’s already king. These words give Macbeth the sense that his destiny is predetermined, and he knows what has to happen to succeed. Another good example of tone comes later in the scene when Macbeth is challenging the witches’ knowledge of his future. During this quote, Macbeth is not sure if he should believe what the witches are telling him or if they are just lying or trying to confuse him:
“No more than to be Cawdor. Say from whence you owe
this strange intelligence? Or why upon this blasted
heath you stop our way with such prophetic
greeting? Speak, I charge you” (1.3.76-79).
In this quote, Shakespeare again uses a strong tone. The witches tell Macbeth his fate, but Macbeth challenges their knowledge. Shakespeare’s presentation of Macbeth’s challenge and disbelief make it clear that Macbeth needs absolute proof in order to trust what the witches are telling him. At this point in the play, because of this challenging tone, the reader is left to wonder whether the witches truly can predict Macbeth’s fate.
If Shakespeare had used a different tone during this quote, it would not have the same impact. This impact is felt later on in the play when Macbeth finds out that the Thane of Cawdor has been killed, exactly as the witches had predicted. Because of the doubt created by Macbeth’s tone earlier in the play, the impact of finding out that Macbeth’s fate was foretold has even more power. Shakespeare uses tone to mirror what the reader is thinking and increase the emotional connection to Macbeth’s story, so that when the prophecy comes true, the impact of destiny feels overwhelming.
Shakespeare’s tone, then, makes his views on fate clear. Overall, Shakespeare’s use of literary and poetic forms throughout the play Macbeth helps demonstrate his moral that fate is dominant over free will. In the confrontation with the three witches, all Shakespeare’s tools of writing support his conclusion that Macbeth’s fate is predetermined. Banquo’s metaphor about the seeds of time, combined with Macbeth’s hallucination of a floating dagger, show clearly that the characters are in the thrall of destiny.
Furthermore, the tone each character uses in key scenes, such as the witches’ enthusiastic hailing of Macbeth and his subsequent tone of kingly command, shows that the characters are not in control, but merely playing their role in the story. The story of Macbeth provides a lesson about the lack of free will. Like Macbeth, everyone is playing their own role in a much larger narrative. People may think that they make their own choices, but the environment and society that surround them will ultimately determine their fate. Shakespeare’s message is more or less a caution against the power of fate.