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Victims of Fate, Prophecy and Supernatural Powers

There is a common thread running through William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth. and Thomas Hardy’s novel, Tess of the D’Urbervilles. The main characters in the respective literary masterpieces are heavily influenced and eventually ruled by supernatural powers, prophecy, and fate. It would seem like Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hardy’s Tess Durbeyfield were both pre-ordained to meet their downfall. They perished both from their own weak character vis-a-vis the manipulations of other people, and from some unseen higher forces and fate.

Through literary devices like vivid imagery and figurative language, Macbeth’s fate is made known to him initially through the prophetic greeting of the Weird Sisters or witches that make their appearance early on in the play. Macbeth’s curiosity is piqued, which triggers the beginning of his reliance on prophecies. As he uttered in the literary piece: Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more: By Sinel’s death I know I am thane of Glamis; But how of Cawdor? the thane of Cawdor lives (Shakespeare 19).

In similar manner, Tess Durbeyfield in Thomas Hardy’s novel realizes soon enough, after encountering Alec d’Urberville, that “she was doomed to be seen and coveted… by the wrong man, and not by some other man, the right and desired one in all respects…” (Hardy 47). It is clear that Tess Durbeyfield was resigned to her fate right from the start. She articulated, for instance, her hopes “to be a teacher at the school, but the fates seemed to decide otherwise” (Hardy 53).

As far as Tess was concerned, nothing seems to go according to plan, and at every turn, she encounters a setback “Nothing that anyone plans, or `schemes’ ever works out” (Dale 236). Faced with her father’s extravagance and mother’s delusion that they will come upon riches and status when they present their supposed relations to the D’Urbervilles, Tess bears the brunt of her parent’s folly and encounters all sorts of misfortunes along the way, which get in the way of her personal happiness.

She takes responsibility for many things, including the loss of the family’s horse (Hardy 33), the care for the multitude of siblings foisted on her by her parents, which entailed taking on farm jobs (Hardy 40), and other family burdens, including the seemingly futile goal of leading her family in rising above their poverty. Tess is molested by Alec d’ Urberville, meets a sincere gentleman named Angel Clare, but once again, destiny and unseen forces seemed to conspire to break them apart and keep them from achieving lasting peace and happiness.

There are many fateful symbols throughout Tess of the D’Urbervilles, like the repeated crowing of the cock one afternoon while driving by in the countryside. However, the lead character keeps dismissing them, even if they do bring a certain sense of foreboding which readers themselves experience. On the other hand, Tess also ends up seeing in a negative light the great love that comes her way. As an unseen omniscient narrator expresses, “Her idolatry of this man was such that she herself almost feared it to be ill-omened” (Hardy 269).

Tess also becomes a victim of prophecy, or of a gloomy legend and suprstition linked to her shrouded ancestry – that when someone from the d’Urberville lineage sees or hears a semblance of an old coach, such as where a certain d’Urberville from the 16th or 17th century once committed a crime, tragedy will befall them (Hardy 269). The premonition does happen, but only after a series of events bear upon Tess. She regards it as fate that her past catches up with her and she loses her husband in the interim, and destiny as well that she is with another man when Angel returns.

She tells Angel that everything was too late when he returns to her… “She sounds a little sad, when the line should carry all the heaviness of their star-crossed fate” (James 30). Tess invokes on divine powers for guidance in some instances in the story, but through her own decisions and the doomed fate, she eventually succumbs to the overpowering force of some other higher power when her tragic end came into focus.

The story ends with the execution of Tess, with the narrator confirming the intervention of a a strong supernatural force or higher power: ”`Justice’ was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschylean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess” (506). As far as Macbeth was concerned, Elizabethan style of writing characterized by cultivated prose and the appearance in the story of ghostly apparitions and living objects like daggers highlighted how the lead character was a victim of fate, prophecy, and higher powers.

The moment Macbeth came to know of the witches’ cryptic prophecies involving who shall be reigning over a vast territorial jurisdiction, he was caught in a tangled maze of events leading to his downfall. The machinations of Lady Macbeth were, of course, pivotal, in that they made him actualize and turn something that had once only been lurking in his consciousness into a real dastardly deed. At one point in the story, Macbeth demands the witches’ prophetic confirmation anew: “Tell me, if your art can tell so much: shall Banquo’s issue ever reign in this kingdom? ” (Shakespeare 127).

Macbeth set out to defy the witches’ prophecy, but there was nothing he could do about it. The witches’ line, “fair is foul and foul is fair” likewise served as prophetic warning of what was in store for Macbeth.. By committing murder, which he thought would assure him power to rule, there were huge tradeoffs, including the sanity of Lady Macbeth and the eventual tragedy he met. On the other hand, it can be said that while fate and supernatural powers greatly influenced him, Macbeth met his doom more from his own human frailty, notably greedy thirst for power, rather than occult influences.

Works Cited

Dale, Peter. In Pursuit of a Scientific Culture: Science, Art, and Society in the Victorian Age. Madison, Wis. : University of Wisconsin Press, 1989. Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the D’Urbervilles. London: Octopus Publishing Group Ltd. , 2005. James, Caryn. “Hardy’s Tess, Still at the Mercy of Men. ” New York Times 11 Sept. 1998: 30. Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square Press, 1992.

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