The nature of humanity to struggle against the will of fate and our more than heroic quests to change or fulfill destiny has always been an intriguing part of human life. It is no surprise that famous authors, poets, and play writers all draw from the central theme of destiny, a practice that has led to the development of quite a handful thought-provoking masterpieces. As the central plot of a literary work, Destiny is a recurring trend; as a side plot, it is even more common. It is a theme that fits perfectly and is often incorporated into the many literal genres we have today; from romance to action, thriller, crime, tragedy, and even comedy.
Like most themes in literature, certain depictions from certain authors paint an outstanding picture of the concept. And among that growing list, these literal titles stand out.
The tale of a man that couldn’t be killed by any man born of a woman.
While most depictions of destiny in the contemporary literal verse picture it from the perspective of a man trying desperately to outclass the force of destiny, the tale of Macbeth starts with a military general who after being granted a glimpse of his fate decided to take matters into his own hands.
Macbeth was a serving military general under Scottish King Duncan. Along with Banquo, a general like himself, he was able to repel rebel uprisings against the throne from Ireland and Norway. On their return from victory, the two generals were intercepted by a gang of witches who revealed that Macbeth would be made Thane of Cawdor, and subsequently King of Scotland. Banquo, on the other hand, was told that he’d be the progenitor of a lineage of Kings. The two men, however, did not take these revelations to heart and proceeded on their journey without much regards to the witches. This was to change, as one of Macbeth’s men soon arrived with news that he had been made Thane of Cawdor.
Macbeth is without doubt perplexed by this news and the recently strengthened possibility that he might eventually become king of Scotland, but still, entertains some uncertainty. At his castle, he narrates all that had happened to his wife, Lady Macbeth, who unlike Macbeth coveted the throne and had the utmost faith in her Husband’s disclosed destiny. In a classical scenario of playing devil’s advocate, she brushed aside all Macbeth’s reservations and persuaded him to ‘Fulfil his destiny’ – i.e., in essence, kill King Duncan, whom she now viewed as the opposition to Macbeth’s destiny of the Throne. Heeding her advice, the two hatched up a plan to kill the King at night, intoxicate his Royal chamberlains and blame his death on them, the next morning. Soon Macbeth was upon the throne, fulfilling his Destiny – but Alas the force of destiny had other plans for him and this time, it was more of strife than it was for glory.
Aware of the witches prophesy that Banquo lineage was destined for the throne, Macbeth contracted a group of Assassins to murder both him and his son, Fleance. They succeeded in killing Banquo, but his son Fleance fled into the dead of the night. Outraged and perturbed, Macbeth insecurity got the better out of him, and the King soon became paranoid. Adding to his paranoia was the appearance of Banquo’s ghost at a dinner party which hosted a conglomerate of Scottish Nobility. Startled, Macbeth entered into a fit of rage and fear, in the presence of his guests who were oblivious of the presence of the Ghost. This demonstration coupled with Macbeth’s now apparent Paranoia weakened his dominion over the thrown and all around the castle and empire were subtle but piercing murmurs that questioned his legitimacy over the throne.
In the act of desperation, Macbeth headed straight to the witches cavern to discover the remaining part of his current not so glorious destiny; the witches had this to say;
Be wary of Macduff (a nobleman who had always challenged Macbeth’s right to the throne).
He, (Macbeth) is incapable of being harmed by any man borne of a woman.
He will be safe until the time comes when Birnam Wood (a forest) comes into his fortress (Dunsidane Castle)
Bolstered by this new revelation, Macbeth is relieved. He is certain that all men must be born of women and that the Birnam forest had no legs to move into Dunisdane. What was left now was Macduff. Macduff was not to be found, as he had fled to England. Macbeth in his paranoia overthrew Macduff’s castle and murdered his wife and children in the process. Overwhelmed with grief, Macduff swore vengeance.
One of King Duncan’s son, Prince Malcolm succeeded in mustering an army, and Macduff was quick to pledge his allegiance. The Malcolm-Macduff army is backed by a majority of Scottish nobles, who had had enough of Macbeth’s tyranny and ruthless murders. Meanwhile, adding to Macbeth’s already compounding problems, Lady Macbeth ran mad and eventually committed suicide. Macbeth is left distraught and downcast, but still leveraging on the witches’ last two prophecies, he staged an intimidating defense at Dunisdane, but he was soon to discover that some men were not born of a woman and that the trees could grow legs.
Indeed the forest acquired legs, as the advancing English army were using boughs crafted out of Birnam wood; Birnam wood was, in fact, coming into Dunisdane – first half of the prophecy fulfilled. In the ensuing battle, Macbeth and his forces fought gallantly but were however overwhelmed by the English troops, and as fate would have it, Macbeth encountered Macduff on the battlefield. The latter went on to reveal that he wasn’t ‘of woman born’ but was instead ripped off his mother’s womb which is old Scottish way of saying Caesarean section, before beheading Macbeth. Following the death of Macbeth, Malcolm was crowned king.
Through this play, Shakespeare painted a picturesque image of one fundamental tenet of Destiny; it manifested via seemingly impractical routes. Macbeth never thought any man existed that was not born of a woman, neither did he believe that Birnam wood could enter his kingdom. Because destiny had to be fulfilled, these two seemingly impossible feats came to pass via what is best described as an illogical means.
La Forza del Destino
Another literal work that depicts the unchallenged power of destiny is La Forza del Destino – which literally means The Power of Fate. Written by Guiseppe Verdi, the opera follows the life of Don Alvaro, the son of a disgraced nobleman. In his quest for redemption, he met Leonora, the daughter of Marquis of Calatrava whom he fell in love with. Leonora’s father, however, disapproved of the relationship, and as a resolve, the two planned to flee the town. On the D-day, Alvaro arrived, but before they could escape, they were interrupted by her father who promptly disowned Leonora. Adding salt to injury, Alvaro’s gun fired hitting Marquis in the process. With his dying breath, he curses the two lovers as they escape town.
Leonora’s Brother Carlo upon discovering his father’s death swore to exert revenge. Years later, Leonora and Alvaro separated. The now desolate Leonora receded to life as a hermit. Alvaro, on the other hand, was fighting for the Spanish in the German war. Carlo was fighting for the Italian forces in the same war, and coincidentally the two men oblivious of their identities met on the battlefield. When Carlo got severely injured, he is saved by Alvaro. The two subsequently brokered a friendship pact. However, things were to change when Alvaro got wounded, thinking he was going to die, he asked Carlo to help him dispose of some personal belongings – in the process Carlo instead found a picture of his sister. Now aware of Alvaro’s true Identity, Carlo is enraged, and as fate would have it, Alvaro recuperated from his illness. The two duel before other soldiers separated them. Carlo still housed his thought of revenge. Alvaro on the other hand flustered by the recent happenings retired to a monastery and took up a new alias, unknown to him. It was the same monastery where Leonora was living at as a hermit. Carlo traced Alvaro to the monastery, and in the ensuing battle, he was severely wounded. Leonora emerged from her cave, and almost immediately she recognized Alvaro. She ran to attend to her vanquished brother but was instead greeted by the cold metal of his dagger. Leonora fell to the ground, and the two siblings passed away leaving Alvaro to declare that the hands of destiny had indeed cursed him.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey
An even more enticing and relatable work of literature that tells a tale of destiny is ‘The bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder. The book follows the lives of three protagonists, their seemingly unconnected lives, and their date with destiny atop the bridge of San Luis.
Dona Maria Marquessa-de Montemayor was the daughter of a wealthy cloth merchant. At a young age, she was shipped off to an arranged marriage that saw her conceive a daughter, Clara. Dona Maria showered all her pent-up love on the child, but it was for the most part unrequited. Clara got engaged and subsequently moved to Spain with her new husband. Dona Maria was, however, hell-bent on fostering a healthy relationship between her and her daughter – she sent droves of letters most of which did not receive any reply. When Dona learnt that her daughter was pregnant she headed immediately to the Santa Maria De Cluxambuqua to offer supplication on her behalf; It was there that she met Pepita, a lonely convent girl in need of love and affection – she hoped to add value to both of their lives, and the two walked home together.
Manuel and Esteban were two twin brothers who spent the formative years of their lives together at the convent. In this lackluster setting, they grew fond of each other and were emotionally inseparable. In search of greener pastures, they left the convent and became copyists at a local theatre. It was there that they met Camila Perichole, a famous actress who Manuel fell in love with. Esteban questioned his brother about his interest in Camila, but he rebuffed it, before proceeding to sever all ties with her. Later, he was involved in an accident and subsequently caught an infection. Esteban attempted to take care of Manuel as his health deteriorated for the worse but was instead met with resentment from his brother who blamed him for ending his relationship with Camila. When Manuel died, Esteban is left devastated and even became suicidal. He, however, received comfort from Maria del Pilar and Captain Alvaro who jointly suggested that he joins the latter in life at sea. He accepted this opportunity and proceeded to Lima where he was supposed to meet the Captain.
Uncle Pio is a largely successful savvy businessman with a knack for all things art. He soon met Camila and recruited her to become an actress. Through the process of coaching Camila, he fell in love with her but kept this as a secret. Camila eventually got separated from uncle Pio when she married a wealthy viceroy. Her switch in societal status severed any ties she had previously with Uncle Pio. Things went south however when she contracted smallpox. The disease left her in a state of penury and depression, this notwithstanding, Uncle Pio still nursed his love for her. In an act of concern, he asks for custody of one of her three sons who is also frail in health, Camila agreed, and the two (Uncle Pio and Camila’s son) set off to his home.
The three set of protagonists Dona, Esteban and Uncle Pio and their accomplices on their path towards a new life met at the Bridge of San Luis Rey. They were set to literally cross the bridges of their previous limitations into a new beginning; this was however not to be as fate had sealed their destinies – the bridge collapses and all three teams die. Thornton Wilder’s literal masterpiece is a classical description of the absolute and illogical power of destiny, how we as humans remain subject to its unwavering force. And while we at one point or the other might try to overturn its manifestations, it is, for the most part, an exercise in futility.