Jumping the Life to Come

A central theme of William Shakespeare's Macbeth is the title character's willingness to accept his fate. Macbeth's attitude toward the prophecies of the witches varies depending on how much he likes the prediction. At first, he follows along with the prophecies that say he will become king, murdering his way to the position, but when they foretell his death and lack of heirs, he tries to stop the course of fate. His methods are bloody ones, and throughout the play he must face--or ignore--the morality of his actions. When Macbeth moves from working for fate to working against it, his feeling of guilt moves from great to small as he grows callous and willfully heads toward his damnation.

Whether Macbeth has had any thoughts of killing Duncan before he hears the prophecy that he himself shall be king is unclear, but he certainly thinks this very soon after hearing the witches. Though he thinks about the murder often, he refuses to let himself acknowledge it. Speaking to Banquo, he shakes it off as "things forgotten," and he wants the eye to "wink at the hand." Macbeth both wants to fulfill and to avoid fate. The prophecies are enough to make him think about the deed, but not enough to make him do...

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