Macbeth

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Themes and Colors
Ambition Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Violence Theme Icon
Nature and the Unnatural Theme Icon
Manhood Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Macbeth, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Fate Theme Icon

From the moment the weird sisters tell Macbeth and Banquo their prophecies, both the characters and the audience are forced to wonder about fate. Is it real? Is action necessary to make it come to pass, or will the prophecy come true no matter what one does? Different characters answer these questions in different ways at different times, and the final answers are ambiguous—as fate always is.

Unlike Banquo, Macbeth acts: he kills Duncan. Macbeth tries to master fate, to make fate conform to exactly what he wants. But, of course, fate doesn't work that way. By trying to master fate once, Macbeth puts himself in the position of having to master fate always. At every instant, he has to struggle against those parts of the witches' prophecies that don't favor him. Ultimately, Macbeth becomes so obsessed with his fate that he becomes delusional: he becomes unable to see the half-truths behind the witches' prophecies. By trying to master fate, he brings himself to ruin.

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Fate Quotes in Macbeth

Below you will find the important quotes in Macbeth related to the theme of Fate.
Act 1, scene 3 Quotes
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.
Related Characters: Banquo (speaker), Macbeth, Weird Sisters
Page Number: 1.3.135-138
Explanation and Analysis:

Macbeth and Banquo have just learned that Macbeth has become Thane of Cawdor, which confirms the first part of the witches’ prophecy. In response, Banquo notes that the stories told by the witches may be attempts to manipulate Macbeth.

These lines pose an important question about the role of supernatural forces in this tragedy: Are the witches dictating these mens’ destinies or do men maintain the ability to avoid or affect the prophecies being presented? When Banquo says they “win us to our harm,” he contends that the witches are actively exploiting him and Macbeth, yet he also notes that they “tell us truths”—which would seem to imply that nothing they recount is false. The resolution comes in a similarly paradoxical phrase: “Honest trifles” that “betray.” What Banquo means is that aspects of the witches’ prophecies are genuine, but that those components are ultimately insignificant. He believes that these “instruments of darkness” will use the prophecies to gain control over him and Macbeth and then later manipulate them.

Banquo thus argues that he and Macbeth should resist believing the witches too much, even though they have thus far been correct in their prophecies. This belief posits a worldview in which humans can act freely from the influence of supernatural forces—choosing to believe them or not. Macbeth, on the other hand, represents the position that direct adherence to their prophecies will allow him to thwart his fate. Shakespeare thus uses these two characters mixed responses to present two different ways of viewing the supernatural forces in his work: as either maneuvering or merely recounting fate.

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