Fate? Are You Sure? Bob Walker [English-Shakespeare] As one goes through life, many things shape personality and alter the direction one takes in life. These things usually take the form of events that one can look back on and evaluate; one may say, “I knew I wanted to become [a writer, painter, king]..here,” or wish one could go back and do it all again. These ‘turning points’ are very important, and they may result in drastic changes. These changes, however, may be interpreted as fated (that is, predetermined), self-fulfilling (that is, one’s actions result in change), or some combination of both. All three interpretations are fleshed out in some detail in the play “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare.
Two characters in particular, Banquo and Macbeth, showcase the effects of these interpretations quite adequately. Macbeth, the Thane of Glamis, is quite unsuspecting of a major turning point right around the corner as he strolls home from the battle. “So foul and fair a day I have not seen,” (I, iii, 38) he says to Banquo. The audience is aware of the irony in this statement because of the witches’ brief introduction just prior. The audience knows that the meeting with the witches will occur here. Macbeth is a very superstitious man, starting at “things that do sound so fair” (I, iii, 52).
The turning point here is when Macbeth chooses to believe that he “shalt be king hereafter” (I, iii, 50). Although the witches’ prophecy of Cawdor being Macbeth’s dominion is fated (it comes true without action), the further prophecy regarding Macbeth’s kingship may require action on Macbeth’s part. To use the simple analogy of a fork in the road, the witches have begun the turn, but the Thane of Cawdor may have to complete it. Macbeth realizes this, and is horrified by the “horrid image that doth unfix [his] hair” and makes his heart “knock at [his] ribs against the use of nature” (I, iii, 135-37). On the other hand, Macbeth realizes that “chance may crown [him] king without [his] stir” (I, iii, 143-44).
Of course, Duncan’s eldest, Malcolm, shall gain the throne after his father’s death. To Macbeth, “that is a step on which [he] must fall down or else o’erleap” (I, iv, 48-49). After Lady Macbeth cajoles her husband with the charge, “When you durst do it, then you were a man,” (I, vii, 49) the turning point completes itself; this is very unfortunate for Duncan! In that manner, the turning point is self-fulfilling; one may even go so far as to say that Macbeth would not have become king without acting as he did. In the opposite manner, Banquo’s turning point was fated; in fact, the ‘turning point’ as such completes itself after the nobleman’s sponsored murder. The witches hailed the nobleman as “lesser then Macbeth and greater; they hail’d him [as the] father to a line of kings” (I, iii, 65; III, i, 60).
The beginning of the turn is, of course, the encounter with the “weird sisters” (II, i, 20); however, predestination is not certain until “good Fleance” (III, iv, 18) escapes the murder scene unharmed. After that point, the audience may assume that fate has taken over. The turn is completed some time after the death of King Malcolm. Indeed, as Scottish history reveals, Fleance’s line lays successive claim to the throne for a long time. But what about cause and effect? Do self-fulfilling turns lead to fated ones? According to Shakespeare this would seem to be the case.
For example, Macbeth experiences both types of turning points during the play. If the witches’ prophecies, which comprise the first turning point for Macbeth, are self-fulfilling, what of the apparitions later on? These apparitions represent the second turning point for Macbeth. “Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! Beware Macduff; Beware the Thane of Fife. Dismiss me. Enough.” (IV, i, 71-2) The first apparition, some essayists have suggested, refers to when Macduff cuts off Macbeth’s “arm’d head”.
Macduff does indeed sever Macbeth’s head to present to Malcolm in the last scene of the play. “Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn The power of man, for none of woman born Shall harm Macbeth.” (IV, i, 79-81) This prophecy also comes true because Macduff is “from his mother’s womb untimely ripp’d” (V, vii, 44-5), and according to Elizabethan medical science, not “of woman born”. “..Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill Shall come against him.” (IV, i, 92-4) It is of no consequence that the preceding half of the prophecy is misleading; ultimately, the prophecy comes true when Macbeth uses of the boughs of Birnam Wood as crude camouflage. This author suggests that Shakespeare deliberately differentiated between fate and self-fulfillment; this distinction makes the audience realize that the harm befalling Macbeth is the result of how he negotiated the first turning point. In other words, the ‘fated’ apparitions would not have come about if Macbeth had chosen not to act. In this context, Banquo’s warning to Macbeth takes on a second meaning: “And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us truths, Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s In deepest consequence.” (I, iii, 123-6) A possibly dark turning point may present itself, so simple things (which one may interpret as fate) become true to lower one’s guard against the future. As case in point, Macbeth’s trust in dark prophesy becomes his downfall.
It can be argued that Macbeth did not die because he let his guard down; in a narrow, superficial sense that is true. However, Macbeth never questioned (wholeheartedly) the validity of the prophecies (III, i, 48-72 and IV, i are two major examples); that is how he let his guard down. As one can see from “Macbeth”, by William Shakespeare, turning points play an important role in one’s life, and one can interpret them in different ways. One must by careful, however, to be open-minded yet prudently cautious concerning the future. If possible, one should ‘stand back’ from a situation, and determine what has contributed to ‘turning points’ in one’s life.
It is important to realize that, while one may have a particular leaning toward the supernatural, one must use judgment before blindly trusting anything. Just as there may be different interpretations of events, so there are varying degrees of judgment. Maybe, like Macbeth, it is possible for one to completely trust the supernatural. But it should also be possible to apply critical thinking to a situation. In that manner, one may turn (without getting lost) at any point along the road of life.