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Macbeth a Tragic Hero?

By dariusjojo Mar 10, 2013 874 Words
Macbeth a tragic hero?

Macbeth is the main character in Shakespeare's play ‘Macbeth’. The play is a tragedy, therefore, the question arises; is Macbeth a tragic hero? Macbeth’s not only guilty of regicide, he also kills his best friend, an innocent family, and anybody else who he feels is a danger to his thrown. If we were to leave it at that, we could even name him a villain. However a tragic hero does not necessarily have to accomplish any good deeds, like the typical person we would call a hero today. The great Greek philosopher Aristotle had a couple of characteristics that he believed made a tragic hero, and Macbeth meets his criteria.

Firstly, according to Aristotle, a tragic hero is of high social statues and nobility. Someone liked by other people and looked up to. Macbeth is exactly that. Even though Macbeth at the end of the play is described a murdering “Butcher”, at the beginning of the play he is introduced as being very admirable. He is a brave warrior and thane of Glamis who lives in a castle with his wife. He is looked up to by his fellow soldiers in the army and praised for his great victory in battle. King Duncan, who Macbeth later kills, also likes and trusts Macbeth. He is “brave Macbeth”, “Valour’s minion”, “Bellona’s bridegroom”. Others praise him constantly: "But all's too weak, For brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name."

Secondly, according to Aristotle, a tragic hero is not perfect. Macbeth, though he seemed to be, was not perfect. If he was perfect he never would have killed so many innocent people. Macbeth’s tragic flaw is his ambition. When he encounters the witches and they predict that he will be not only be thane of Cawdor but also king he is immediately overthrown by his ambition. Macbeths best friend Banquo also gets a prophecy from the witches. Unlike Banquo, however, Macbeth takes the predictions seriously and can’t stop thinking about them. While Banquo is doubting whether the witches prophecy are true, Macbeth is already having thoughts about what he may have to do to become king, that is killing Duncan. These evil thoughts don’t come to Macbeth because he is evil, he is just simply manipulated by now and his ambition is getting the better of him.

The third point that Aristotle says makes a tragic hero is that his downfall, in this case Macbeth’s murdering spree, is not only his fault. It is triggered by an error of judgment or character flaw. It is true that Macbeth’s downfall is only partially his fault. Macbeths character flaw as already pointed out is his ambition. Lady Macbeth, his wife, says: "Thou wouldst be great,/Art not without ambition." This suggest that Macbeth has always had this flaw, but it’s getting out of hand was triggered by the witches predictions. He would have never done anything evil if he never had this encounter with the witches. When the first of the witches predictions came true and he became Thane of Cawdor, he had to make the second come true and become king. The witches are not the only ones who played a part in his downfall. Lady Macbeth also had a major role. She encourages Macbeth to kill Duncan. However when this doesn’t work she taunts him and tells him that if he doesn’t kill Duncan he is not a man, but a coward. She asks him can his actions not match his ambitions: “Art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour as thou art in desire?” Macbeth listens to her and goes ahead with the murder. If she would not have pushed Macbeth to do it he never would of killed Duncan, and his downfall would have been avoided. This brings to surface another flaw; he is easily convinced by his wife to do even the most evil things, such as regicide.

Lastly Aristotle says that in the end the tragic hero’s downfall brings him self-awareness. He realises what he has done, he realises that it was wrong, and is sorry and prepared to pay the price for his actions. Contrary to most opinions, I think this is true of Macbeth. In the end he fights Macduff instead of giving himself in or apologising to Macduff for murdering his family. He decides to fight to the death. You could say he is showing no remorse at all. However, this can be interpreted in a different way. He knew he stood no chance to win against Macduff, but still engages in the fight telling Macduff “damned be him that first cries `Hold, enough!” This can be seen as Macbeth’s suicide, he is prepared to pay for his actions by entering a fight in which he knows he will be killed.

Considering everything stated above, Macbeth according to Aristotle is a typical tragic hero. He has a high social statue, but is not perfect. He has a tragic flaw, his ambition which overthrows him. His downfall is not entirely his fault, the ambition that leads to his downfall is triggered by the witches and pushed by his wife. And in the end he pays the price for his actions: death.

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