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The Tragic Hero in Macbeth

Oct 21, 2008 668 Words
Aristotle’s tragic hero must possess these four characteristics: goodness; superiority; a tragic flaw; and the realisation of both that flaw and the inevitable downfall (Literary Connections, 2008). In Macbeth, William Shakespeare’s representation of the tragic hero can be seen through the character Macbeth. “For Brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name” (Act I, Scene II line 16) Shakespeare further constructs this representation through the second characteristic, superiority. The first prophecy told to Macbeth and Banquo by the three witches entails specific details of Macbeth’s future: “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis.

All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor.
All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter.” (Act I, Scene III, line 46 – 48) Soon after, Macbeth is promoted to the Thane of Cawdor. This is when Shakespeare introduces Macbeth’s tragic flaw, his gullibility to what the witches tell him and his driving ambition to be king. Macbeth realises this tragic flaw and vows to fight to death: “Arm, Arm, and out!...

At least we’ll die with harness on our back.” (Act V, Scene V, line 45 – 51) Although Macbeth fits the characteristics of the tragic hero, contrary to Aristotle’s tragic hero, his downfall is far from heroic. He is beheaded by Macduff, instead of receiving a “mortal wound” which a King falling during battle would commonly receive.

It is evident through Shakespeare’s altered version of the tragic hero that he has constructed this representation to reflect his own cultural assumptions, values and beliefs learnt through his upbringing. Aristotle was a Greek philosopher, who produced many works of literature in which he produced a piece of work on Poetics, which spoke of tragedy and the tragic hero (Aristotle: Politics and Art, 2008). These pieces of work were often studied by those of a higher social class (, 2008). John Shakespeare, William’s father, was the chamberlain of the town William grew up in, meaning that the Shakespeare family was of a high status quo. This also meant that William was able to attend school where he would have studied works by Aristotle, thus influencing his representation of the tragic hero, as can be seen in Macbeth. However, the altered ending to Shakespeare’s version of the tragic hero reflects the assumptions, values and beliefs of Elizabethan culture. “The Divine Right of Kings was a theory which argued that Kings ruled because they were chosen by God to do so...” (The European Enlightenment Glossary, 1999). As a result of this, “any who are convicted of high treason by their peers...the manner of their death is converted into the loss of their heads only” (, 2001), the same punishment Macbeth receives.

Ford, D. (2007). Britannia History. Retrieved May 2, 2008, from The Gunpowder Plot Overview: History, E. t. (2001). EyeWitness to History. Retrieved May 4, 2008, from Crime and Punishment in Elizabethan England: Hooker, R. (1999, July 14). The European Enlightenment Glossary. Retrieved May 14, 2008, from Divine Right of Kings: Mallibard, A. (2008). Shakespeare and the Gunpowder Plot. Retrieved May 12, 2008, from Shakespeare's Connection to the Gunpowder Plot: Nashawaty, C. (2007, February 20). Retrieved May 12, 2008, from The Day Britney Spears' Imagination Ran Wild:,,20012364,00.html Pisani, J. (2004, March 24). The Pace Press. Retrieved May 12, 2008, from Free Martha! She's a Modern Day Tragic Hero: Shand, A. (2007). Big Shots. In A. Shand, The Chilling Inside Story of Carl Williams and the Gangland Wars. Brisbane: Penguin Group. Television Tropes and Idioms. (2006). Television Tropes and Idioms. Retrieved May 14, 2008, from Tragic Hero: The Middle Ages and the Feudal System. (2004, April 28). Retrieved May 12, 2008, from The Feudal Structure of the Medieval World: Thinkquest. (2007). Macbeth: An In Depth Analysis. Retrieved May 14, 2008, from Macbeth Plugged:

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