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Paris, B.J. (1982). Bargains with Fate: The Case of Macbeth. Am. J. Psychoanal., 42(1):7-20.

(1982). American Journal of Psychoanalysis, 42(1):7-20

Bargains with Fate: The Case of Macbeth

Bernard J. Paris, Ph.D.

According to Horney, each of the interpersonal strategies of defense involves a “bargain with fate” in which if a person lives up to his shoulds, his claims are supposed to be honored. The bargain of the self-effacing individual is that if he is a good, loving, noble person who shuns pride and does not seek private gain or glory, he will be well-treated by fate and by other people. The narcissistic person feels that if he holds onto his dreams and to his exaggerated claims for himself, life is bound to give him what he wants. The perfectionistic person believes that his own rectitude will insure fair treatment from others; through the height of his standards, he compels fate. The bargain of the arrogant-vindictive person is essentially with himself. He does not count on the world to give him anything, but he is convinced that he can reach his ambitious goals if he remains true to his vision of life as a battle and does not allow himself to be seduced by his softer feelings or the traditional morality. The detached person believes that if he asks nothing of others, they will not bother him; that if he tries for nothing, he will not fail, and that if he expects little of life, he will not be disappointed.

I have found Horney's concept to be of great help in understanding Shakespeare's four major tragedies-Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth. Each of these plays deals with characters who are in a state of psychological crisis resulting from threats to their bargains with fate. The failure of the bargain calls their whole strategy for living into question and generates rage, anxiety, and self-hate; and each behaves in a way that is destructive to himself and others in the course of his attempts to restore his pride, repair his defenses, and hold onto his idealized image of himself. Hamlet1 and Desdemona have a self-effacing bargain; Othello's bargain is predominantly perfectionistic; lago has an arrogant-vindictive bargain; and Lear's bargain is narcissistic.

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