Is Macbeth a Tragedy?

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A tragedy is often thought of as a sad, pitiful event. The factors used to label an event as tragic are the consequences and the lasting effects. For example, the consequences of one or more deaths can be seen as a tragedy. And tragedies are often remembered long after the event, clearly impacting the future for those involved. Many people interpret events such as a natural disaster, a death of a loved one, or a permanent disability as tragic. However, others say that this definition of a tragedy is incorrect and is misused in modern conversation. The people who think this way use the word tragedy to define literature. The literary definition of the word requires more careful consideration of the character and the overall effect of the play. In this literary sense, tragedy is defined by following four characteristics: first, the story must arouse pity and fear in the audience and/or reader; second, the story must call into question the man’s relationship with God; third, the tragic figure must be capable of great suffering, be highly sensitive, and possess a tragic flaw which leads to his/her own destruction; and fourth, in the end, the character becomes aware that his own flaw has doomed him, but he is powerless to prevent his inevitable destruction. These characteristics have been used by many people to determine whether pieces of literature are considered a tragedy. For example, using these characteristics, the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare is considered a tragedy. Macbeth is a tragedy because the play has all the characteristics in the literary definition of a tragedy. Macbeth definitely arouses pity and fear in the audience/reader. The very first scene in the play instills fear in us audience members. The play opens in a wild and lonely place in medieval Scotland. Three witches enter, and in their cackling voices, they prophesize about the events that will happen in the future. For example, the witches predict that they will meet with the protagonist Macbeth “when the hurlyburly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won” (1.1.3-4). The witches are speaking of the civil war, which they say will end that day. They also say they will meet with Macbeth, one of the generals. These supernatural happenings start the play off with eeriness, stirring up fear in the audience. Additionally, pity is roused in the audience. The author creates sympathy for Macbeth by giving him a good quality: his courage. In the beginning of the play, Macbeth is portrayed as a brave and loyal soldier who fights for his king and his country. Macbeth has “unseamed [a traitor of the king] from the nave to the chops and fixed his head upon [the] battlements” (1.2.24-25). When the king, named Duncan, hears this news, he describes Macbeth as a “valiant cousin! [and] worthy gentleman!” (1.2.26). We start to pity Macbeth from the moment he meets the witches. Once the witches have prophesized that Macbeth will become Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and King of Scotland, Macbeth begins to have dark thoughts of killing the king. However, the thought of killing the king is abhorrent to him, and the “horrid image doth unfix [his] hair and make [his] seated heart knock at [his] ribs” (1.3.156-157). This shows that Macbeth is very reluctant to take any action towards him becoming king. We audience members feel sorry for Macbeth as he is tempted by the prospect of becoming king but at the price of murdering a man that had been very good and generous to him. We pity Macbeth as he struggles with his morals and his conscience saying that “as [he] is [Duncan’s] kinsman and his subject, strong both against the deed; then, as his host, [he] should…not bear the knife” (1.7.14-17). However, in the end, Macbeth’s “vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on the other” (1.7.28-29) wins and he gives in to his evil urges. So with Lady Macbeth’s urging, Macbeth murders Duncan. Before the murder, Macbeth has such a troubled conscience that he...
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