The Impact of Free Will in William Shakespeare's Macbeth

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Free will is defined as the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate. It is the ability to act at one’s own discretion. What this means is that there is no set destiny; only a person’s own decisions can impact the outcome of their life. In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, free will plays a very substantial and powerful role. In 11th century Scotland, three witches give a prophecy to Macbeth, a general in King Duncan’s army, that he will one day become King himself. They also give a prophecy to Macbeth’s best friend, Banquo, telling him that his descendants will be Kings. Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, hatch a plan to commit regicide in order to speed up the process. After their father is found dead, the King’s sons flee to England and Ireland and unknowingly casting the blame upon them. Macbeth is crowned King, and the prophecy has been fulfilled. Macbeth’s reign as King is one of violence and destruction, and he is overcome with guilt. He kills a lord named Macduff’s family because he finds out he has gone to England to help one of the sons. Macduff comes back to Scotland and slays Macbeth, and King Duncan’s eldest son becomes King. Some might argue that Macbeth was a victim of fate and circumstance, but it was of his own free will that he decided to murder King Duncan, and go on a reign of terror as King. Shakespeare’s Macbeth establishes that one’s free will can impact their decision-making abilities, ambition and paranoia. Free will is a concept that not everyone accepts, but something that Macbeth takes head on.
One’s decision-making abilities are severely impacted by the concept of free will. Macbeth’s free will leading up to and following his murder of King Duncan causes him to make extremely rash d...

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...his wife caused Macbeth to kill the King, kill his best friend Banquo, and kill his counterpart Macduff’s family. These choices eventually caused his downfall; in the form of a beheading by Macduff. The concept of fate against free will is often examined in Macbeth, which is what Shakespeare wanted people to do, and in real life. Many people believe that everyone controls their own destiny; that the outcome of their life is based upon the decisions they make. Others conclude that people have a set path through life. Some conceive the idea that life is a mix of both, where people’s decisions have an impact on their life, just not on the outcome. The concept of “fate vs. free will” will continue to be examined, and plays like Shakespeare’s Macbeth allow people to do that.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Mississauga: Canadian School Book Exchange, 1996.
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