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Undergraduate Research Journal

Abstract

Fate is an omnipresent force woven through much ancient literature, and in English literature it is named from the earliest recorded writings as wyrd. By tracing this influence from its first appearances in Anglo-Saxon writing to the Early Modern period, we can see how Shakespeare uses his cultural inheritance to create the supernatural world of Macbeth, specifically through representations of wyrd. In the play, he examines the question “Does fate make the characters, or do the characters create their fates?” Juhász Tamás, a Shakespeare scholar, makes the point, “Of all Shakespearean dramas, the concept of fate and destiny seems most applicable in this particular play. The play is about evil” (59). Workings of fate and destiny are seen most obviously in relation to the witches, but are also present in the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. However, the way in which fate and evil are interlinked is much more amorphous. While the deeds committed by these characters are evil, the destiny that compels them is neither evil nor good; it simply exists. When Holinshed recorded his version of the events that transpired in eleventh-century Scotland, he featured prominently the influence of what he named the “wyrd sisters.” Shakespeare read Holinshed’s account and expanded on the ideas he presented, dramatizing the convergence of an old pagan world, in which evil spirits roam the moor and change the course of human life on a whim, with the new Christian world full of its ideas of clearly marked good and evil as well, as a predilection towards self-chosen destiny, creating a densely magical world with painfully human characters.

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