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Free Will vs. Fate in Dr. Faustus and Macbeth

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The definition of fate: is the development of events beyond a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power. The definition of free will is: the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion. Do we live in a reality where our lives or controlled by fate or free will? Do we have the free will to live our fate, or our we fated to have free will? In their own attempt to master and control their lives through their own free will, both Dr. Faustus and Macbeth, choose their own fates. They act freely without constraint and yet fulfill their destinies from the choices they make, thus proving that free will and fate are two sides of the same coin.

The protestant reformation as well as the Renaissance had a large influence on both Marlowe and Shakespeare . As for Dr. Faustus, one of the ideas the play touches on is the belief of predestination. Calvinists believe people are predestined to go to heaven or hell, they are born fated for one or the other and there’s nothing they can do about it. The question in Dr. Faustus is whether or not Faustus’ fall from grace was his own doing or was he fated to go to hell. Faustus chooses his own path by selling his soul to Lucifer for power. He is given the choice to repent many times during the play, yet Dr. Faustus does not take them. Immediately after signing the contract with the devil, his blood congeals, implying his spiritual disconnect with the contract, and the potential that his fate has yet to be sealed, and that through his own free will, he can still repent and not face the gates of hell.

Doctor Faustus, a German scholar becomes bored with traditional forms of knowledge and decides to practice Black magic. He learns the black arts from Valdes and Cornelius and summons Mephastophilis, a demon. Faustus then makes a deal with Lucifer for magic power. Faustus begins to regret his deal as the twenty-four year deal reaches its conclusion. Faustus is constantly reminded that he needs to repent but does not. He is visited by an angel to convince him to repent but vows “never to look to heaven, never to name God or to pray to him”. The good angel’s failed attempts shows role Faustus’ freedom plays in his own demise. The good Angel constantly tries to convince Faustus to repent “ Repent, God will pity him.” In the final moments Faustus begs for mercy but is too late, the good angel leaves him: “Must thy good angel leave him, the jaws of hell are open to receive him”. We can see early on in the play how Faustus desires power and control over his own destiny. When Faustus says: “These metaphysics of magicians and necromantic books are heavenly; Lines, circles, letters, characters- Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires.” as well as the lines: “O, what a world of profit and delight, of power, of honor, and omnipotence, a sound magician is a demi-god!”. The line ‘Divinity, adieu!’ is said in a manner to freely negate God’s will. The two themes of fate and free-will are very prominent in this play. Predestination would suggest that Faustus is fated to go to hell, but since he clearly is given multiple opportunities to repent, his own free will is ultimately what drives his fate for going to hell.

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From when the witches tell Macbeth and Banquo their prophecies, both of them think on the concept of fate, whether its real and if they need to take the steps to follow the prophecies. Macbeth believes in the prophecies and begins by killing those that stand in his way of becoming king all by his own doing. He tries to control fate in order to achieve his desires, believing that there is no way out of his fate, he goes further. Macbeth becomes so obsessed with his fate that he drives himself mad. By trying to master fate he ruins his life and receives the fate of his actions.

In Act 1 scene 2 the captain returns from battle and describes to King Duncan and Malcolm, Macbeth’s victory. He tells them how Macbeth should have died but that he defied fate. ‘“And fortune, on his damned quarrel smiling Showed like a rebel’s whore, but all too weak: For brave Macbeth- well he deserves that name

Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel, Which smoked with bloody executions ” This is an example of the the underlying superstitious believe in fate that is becomes so prolific to the plot. After Macbeth’s encounter with the three witches, Ross shows up and tells macbeth that the king has given him the title of Thane, Macbeth speaks on the powers of fate saying: “If chance may have me king, why, chance may crown me without my stir.” Again, this presents us with a character who blindly believes in fate. Yet Banquo who understands the role that free will plays says, “New honors come upon him, like our strange garments that cleave not to their mold, but with the aid of use.” Banquo is speaking of the garments as the characters we play in life. Lady Macbeth, speaking on actions moving things rather than fate says: “Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem to have crowned withal.” Even though the witches may give the ideas to Macbeth, he murders those around him through his own fruition and desire for power, ultimately leading him to the fate of which he created.

In both Dr. Faustus and Macbeth, we see the dance of fate and free will intertwined. Both characters having many opportunities to undo the path of which they believe is inevitable, only to secure their own fates by failing to act otherwise. With fate and free will being two sides of the same coin.

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Free Will vs. Fate in Dr. Faustus and Macbeth. (2022, July 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 31, 2023, from
“Free Will vs. Fate in Dr. Faustus and Macbeth.” Edubirdie, 08 Jul. 2022,
Free Will vs. Fate in Dr. Faustus and Macbeth. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 31 Jan. 2023].
Free Will vs. Fate in Dr. Faustus and Macbeth [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jul 08 [cited 2023 Jan 31]. Available from:
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