The Power of Fate vs. Free Will in Medea and Macbeth
Throughout both Medea and Macbeth, there is a clear and heavy presence of the gods. This begs the question, are the characters in charge of their own destiny, or are their fates already written? Fate is described as “that which is inevitably predetermined; destiny.” It can be said that it is the gods who are in charge of creating the character’s fates. In both Medea and Macbeth, there is a common theme of placing too much trust into fate, rather than taking responsibility for their personal actions. In ancient Greek society, it was believed that the gods were in charge of creating people’s destinies. People could make their own small life decisions, but that was the extent of their power of free will. In Medea, Euripides seems to be making a point the entire time that the gods have all power, and that Medea is just going along with what the gods want her to do. This is especially evident when it comes to the murder of her sons, as she questions what their purpose for living is; perhaps it is for them to die at her hands. The chorus knows that Medea wants to harm the children, and though they beg her not to, in the end, it is as if they accept their deaths as inevitable. By stating “Now there is no hope left for the children’s lives,” they seem to be accepting that the fate of the children is to die at the hands of their mother. Even Medea herself seems to believe that the gods want her to kill her children, which is clear when she says “The gods/And my evil-hearted plots have led to this” (1014-1015), as if she believes that she has no choice in the matter, and that the gods are the ones leading her to this terrible fate. However, Medea clearly could have stopped herself from doing this terrible deed. In the end, the fact that Medea is elevated in a godly way, leaving Jason to suffer, shows that the gods are on Medea’s side, and that what she did was right. Jason’s fate was to lose his children and new bride, just as fate had Medea kill her brother and abandon her motherland.
Perhaps it was living as a barbarian that left Medea as an outcast and seen as a witch by the Athenian people. Medea prayed to Hecate, “the goddess who abides in the shrine of [her] inner hearth – the one [she] revere most of all the gods" (57), who also happens to be the goddess of witchcraft. Medea and Hecate have distinct similarities. Hecate, a foreigner (like Medea), took vengeance on men who wronged her. Because of this, Medea would possibly blame Hecate for driving her to do her evil acts. Hecate also has a major appearance in Macbeth. In Act 3 Scene 5 of the play, Hecate appears in front of the Weird Sisters, and tells them that she will prepare apparitions to make Macbeth “spurn fate, scorn death, and bear/ His hopes ‘bove wisdom, grace and fear” (3.5.0-31), and that “security/Is mortals’ chiefest enemy” (3.5.32-33). As humans, we all desire to feel secure. In Macbeth’s case however, the idea that he has nothing to fear and that he is immune to any harm is what ultimately kills him. It is the prophecies that the witches give to Macbeth that set him up for his demise. Firstly, the witches proclaim that Macbeth will be king. After hearing this prophecy, he says “If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me,/Without my stir” (1.3.144). By saying this, he seems to be saying that the witches are stating “chance” rather than “destiny.” With this in mind, he feels that though the witches say he will be king, he needs to do a little more to make his chances better. After Lady Macbeth hears about the witches’ prophecy, she is concerned that her husband will not do enough to take the throne. She doesn’t take what the witches say as fate necessarily. Instead, she knows her husband’s only option is to kill Duncan, and her greatest fear is that he won’t be able to do it. After Duncan is found murdered, Donalbain and Malcolm flee the scene, trying to escape their fate. This shows that...
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