Macbeth and Oediups Rex are great tragedies from two very different time periods. Even though such different writers wrote them, and in such different times, the similarities that exist between the two are remarkable. Shakespeare and Sophocles both understood exactly what it took to write great tragedy. By comparing how fate plays a part in each play, it is better seen that perhaps Sophocles and Shakespeare were on similar wavelengths. Are the tragic heroes of each play doomed to live out their fate or is there an element of free will that causes each of their downfalls. Surely, it may be a little of both.
Oedipus tells the story of a young boy named Oedipus, who, when he was born, was given up to be adopted by his mother and father. Later when Oedipus was growing up, he asked his adopted parents who his mother and father really were. When he was told that they were a King and Queen in a far off country, Oedipus decided to go look for them. He started by crossing the desert but when he met a man in the desert he got in a fight with him and killed the man. He finally reached a new country and found out that their King had been tragically killed. Oedipus went to the queen and she immediately asked Oedipus to marry her, for he was young and handsome. Later Oedipus found out that the woman he had married was his mother and the man that he had killed was his father.
William Shakespeare's Macbeth follows a similar suit as he shows how the witches' prophecies, Lady Macbeth's desire for power, and Macbeth's yearning to be king, affect the fate of the play. In Act I, the witches' chant show how Shakespeare gives the fate of Macbeth, "Thane of Glamis," "Thane of Cawdor," "that shalt be King hereafter" (Macbeth, Act 1 scene 3, lines 48-50). He has no other choice, but to believe them because there first two predictions were true. They call him the Thane of Glamis, which he is at the present time. Then they call him Thane of Cawdor, which he finds out shortly after that he is the new Thane of Cawdor. Lastly they call him King hereafter, which he realizes is his fate. Macbeth sees this fate in his eyes to be very unlikely and almost impossible because of the current circumstances. His reaction to the witches is "stands not within the prospect of belief"(Act 1 scene 3, line 74), which tells the reader that the witches' prophecies are a far reach from reality. Macbeth begins to think if he ever had the chance to become king that it would be a great honor that he would accept, "If chance will have me King, why, chance may crown me"(Act 1 scene 3, line 143). The prophecy of Banquo's son having power in the future effects the actions of Macbeth later in the play too. The thought that Banquo's child might take over the thrown from Macbeth makes him feel the need to get rid of him. Fleance, Banquo's son, gets scared as his father is being killed and flees, "Fly, good Fleance, fly, fly, fly!"(Act3 scene 3, line 18). After his talk with the witches Macbeth starts to think about their predictions, and how he will have to kill the king. This frightens Macbeth to think about killing his great king, so he decides to let fate lead him into the future.
Oedipus believed that the prophesies of Apollo may full well come true and in an effort to outfox fate, he fled his home and vowed to never let the prophecy come to pass. In doing so, he played right into the hands of Apollo and set off a chain of events that would eventually lead to the prophecy being fulfilled. But was it fate that led Oedipus to commit these horrid acts or was it Oedipus' own strong will and determination to prove it wrong that caused his downfall? Could it be Oedipus' own bullishness that led to his imminent demise? Could it have been Oedipus' ego that forced him to kill his father, then a stranger, on the road?
Lady Macbeth actions play a huge role in the fate of play by pushing him into killing the king. The instant she reads the letter from her husband that explains the prophecies Lady Macbeth wants to make her husband kill the king, "to catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great"(Act 1 scene 5, line 13). This shows the evil ways of Lady Macbeth and her selfishness. She does not care if her husband would be in danger when trying to kill Duncan, but what she would be able to do if she were queen. She knows the weaknesses of her husband and how she can manipulate him into what she wants, " It is too full o' the milk of human kindness"(Act 1 scene 5, line 12). She figures if he kills Duncan that she will become queen and have all the power she wants. One of her ways to make Macbeth kill the king is when she tells him that he needs to in order to be a real man, "Be so much more the man"(Act 1 scene 7 line 51). She also plays a big role in the actual murders by drugging the guards so Macbeth can get into the room to kill Duncan.
It was Oedipus' own lack of patience that caused him to openly curse the murderer of Lauis and call for his banishment. Rather than take the time to investigate the crimes committed and follow through with a level head, he chose to publicly announce the banishment of the guilty party. This, too was Macbeth's downfall. "His fatal error, like that of Oedipus, is a failure to notice the cautionary aspect of the prophecies affixed to the gloriously inciting aspect" (Bloom, 153).
From the start Macbeth knew that in order to be king he had to kill Duncan. Macbeth told himself that his only reason for killing Duncan was his ambition, which went against all the good things that Duncan stood for, "but only vaulting ambition"(Macbeth, Act 1 scene 7, line 27). He also knew that this was his fate and what had to be done would be done. Even though Macbeth is pushed to kill the king by his wife it still comes down to the fact that he wants the power. It was Macbeth's choice to kill Duncan from the start to the end. He could of turned back whenever he wanted, but he truly wanted to murder the king and take over the thrown. After the murder there are many other conflicts that Macbeth comes across to fulfill his fate. He needs to kill the two grooms that were drugged up when Macbeth went in the room of Duncan, "Steeped in the colors of their trade"(Act 2 scene 3, line 103). He never expected to even kill Duncan, and he ends up killing many other people. He went from an innocent man to a mass murderer. There is no reason for these actions of Macbeth except the fact that he was destined from the start of the play to perform all these actions.
Surely the audience feels sympathy for both Sophocles and Macbeth. In following the tragic form, the fate of the tragic heroes is reinforced. Arguably this could all depend on the individual views of the audience, yet generally, some sympathy towards him is inevitable, as it was his ambition and his wife, Lady Macbeth, that made him perform such horrific deeds. Even if someone does not feel any sympathy towards Macbeth when he is slain by Macduff he can still be a tragic hero. "Because his virtues and failings derive from a similar source, he inspires both fear and pity, the two responses that Aristole identifies as fundamental in his definition of tragedy. Oedipus's hands, like Macbeth's, are stained with blood" (Nostbakken, 221).
All the above points are now resting on one other to determine whether or not Macbeth is a true tragic hero. The point is whether Macbeth has a tragic flaw within him, in his temperament. Macbeth in fact does have one tragic flaw and that is that he is very ambitious. This itself may not be a bad thing. However, when coupled with the witches' prophecies and Lady Macbeth helping him along the way, Macbeth becomes very easily drawn in the direction that he wishes to go. "His fatal error, like that of Oedipus, is a failure to notice the cautionary aspect of the prophecies affixed to the gloriously inciting aspect" (Bloom, 153). As he wanted to become King of Scotland and the witches told him that he would be then that was the point when Macbeth was not going to be deviated along another path. Ironically, he did become King of Scotland but in a very ill fated way that ultimately led to his…