Macbeth: Aristotelian Tragedy

Topics: Tragedy, Macbeth, Poetics Pages: 5 (1850 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Macbeth: Aristotelian Tragedy

Kim Blair

Interpretive Test

The definition of tragedy in an excerpt from Aristotle's "Poetics" is the re-creation, complete within itself, of an important moral action. The relevance of Aristotle's Poetics to Shakespeare's play Macbeth defines the making of a dramatic tragedy and presents the general principles of the construction of this genre.

Aristotle's attention throughout most of his Poetics is directed towards the requirements and expectations of the plot. Plot, 'the soul of tragedy', Aristotle says, must, be an imitation of a noble and complete action. In Macbeth, Shakespear provides a complete action, that is it has what Aristotle identifies as a beginning, a middle, and an end. These divisible sections must, and do in the case of Macbeth, meet the criterion of their respective placement. In an excerpt from Aristotle's "Poetics" it states:

"The separate parts into which tragedy is divided are: Prologue, Episode, Exodus, Choric songs, this last being divided into Parodos and Stasimon. The prologos is that entire part of a tragedy which precedes the Parodos of the Chorus. The Episode is that entire part of a tragedy which is between complete choric songs. The Exodos is that entire part of a tragedy which has no choric song after it. Of the Choric part the Parodos is the first undivided utterance of the Chorus." Shakespeare follows this precise arrangement of parts to tell his story of Macbeth. Macbeth is divided into five acts. It contains a Prologue, Episode, Exodus, Parodos and Stasimon, but is the only one of Shakespeares plays that does not include Choric songs. This does not dismiss Macbeth as a tragedy in the Aristotelian sense, because it still follows Aristotle's fundamental component of a plot. That the arrangement of actions and episodes arrange themselves into a 'causally connected', seamless whole. The ideal arrangement of action into a plot is: Exposition, Inciting Action, Rising Action, Turning Point(Climax), Falling Action, and Denouement. Macbeth follows each of these steps while introducing a new question every moment that keeps our interest. That is called dramatic tension, a very important part of a tragedy: to keep the audiences attention at all times.

To make Macbeth's plot a complete action, according to Aristotle, the story must contain an activating circumstance, a disclosure, and a reversal of action. The activating circumstance in Macbeth is the three witches. Macbeth and Banqou meet three witches that posses supernatural powers and predict the two men's futures. It is part of the wicked sisters' role in the play to act as the forces of fate. These hags lead Macbeth on to destroy himself. Their predictions are temptations of Macbeth's. They never tell Macbeth he has to do anything, and nothing the witches did forced him to commit the murderous acts he did. But their prophecies stimulated his desire for kingship and intensified his ambition which is the characteristic that led to his downfall. The disclosure is the point in the play in which the audience finds out something they did not know before, that enables them to put the pieces of the tragedy together. It's the point of realization. In Act V scene 1, Lady Macbeth is found sleep walking muttering the lines of reassurance she gave her husband after they murder of Duncan and Banqou, "What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to accompt?"(lines 40-42) and "I tell you yet again, Banqou's buried" (lines 66-67). The plot of the tragedy unfolded for the audience in that scene and it becomes apparent that it was Macbeth's and Lady Macbeth's own evil actions that destroyed themselves. The last guideline of an Aristotelian complete action is the reversal of action. This occurs when Macduff kills Macbeth. Throughout the play Macbeth, driven by his corrupt ambition, went after what he desired most. Even subjecting himself...
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