Campus Only Senior Thesis
Bachelor of Arts
© 2017 Zora E. Martin
Shakespeare's ideas about free will and moral choice, as illustrated in his play Macbeth, may have been influenced by Dante's Inferno. Dante was known to Shakespeare's contemporaries, and therefore most likely to the Bard himself. Current literature has not conclusively addressed this topic, and a focused examination is important, because it offers both an additional perspective on free will in Inferno, and adds to the understanding of free will in Macbeth.
Read at face value, Macbeth seems to bear no responsibility for his actions because they were preordained by the fates. Dante believed in free will, and Macbeth bears more than one similarity to his Commedia. Read through a Dantean lens, Macbeth has free will - even if choosing not to exercise it. Through the mere contemplation of the four reasons for not killing Duncan, Macbeth recognizes that he has the choice whether to become a traitor, with the consequences of suffering contrapasso damnation. But Macbeth elects to disregard the wisdom passed down in Dante's Commedia, and knowingly commits a heinously immoral act.
Shakespeare uses his predecessor Dante as a tool to advocate for human agency and moral choices in a text that would otherwise be fatalistic. Both then and now, Shakespeare sought to influence his audiences' understanding of their own free will. One first has to believe in possessing free will, in order to use it to make the best possible choices. Dante and Shakespeare reaffirm our possession of free will to help us avoid individual and societal tragedies.
Martin, Zora, "Choose to Avoid Tragedy" (2018). Scripps Senior Theses. 1135.
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