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Firstly, I will need to establish what a Shakespearean Tragic Hero is. Afterwards, I will look at Macbeth?s character, actions, dialogue and the dynamics of the play to come to my own conclusions and ascertain whether Macbeth is a Shakespearean Tragic Hero.
In order to answer the above question with any degree of competency, it is necessary to have an effective and confident knowledge of what a Shakespearean Tragic Hero is.
Within the works of Shakespeare, a Tragic Hero is a common figure in many of them.
A Tragic Hero is usually a figure of royalty, fame or greatness. This person is predominantly good but falls from prominence due to flaws in their personality, possibly due to conspiracies against them.
Due to their flaws, a Tragic Hero?s actions are often evil or atrocious and throughout the play, the Tragic Hero suffers due to their actions and battles with their conscience even after their specific desire has been reached or accomplished.
Throughout the Hero?s suffering, other characters also suffer. These characters include the people of the country concerned, family and friends and even nature in some cases.
Even after committing such crimes, the battles with conscience trigger empathy from the audience. A Shakespearean Tragic Hero will always lose their lives at the end of the play, usually as a result of the re-establishment of what is good in the play, which opposes the Tragic Hero.
At the beginning of the play Macbeth already has a degree of responsibility or greatness about him. He has the title,
Thane of Glamis?
and early in the play, he is also granted with the title,
Thane of Cawdor?
Although this establishes his recognition as an important figure of responsibility, it does not tell the reader much about Macbeth?s personality. The very fact that Macbeth has these titles, however, shows us his greatness and establishes the fact that he is good, and this is reiterated by the quotation,
For brave Macbeth ? well he deserves that name.?
These lines, spoken by the Captain, praise Macbeth hugely, telling us of his bravery and how he deserves the title ?brave?. This quotation proves that Macbeth is greatly praised by all, even the King who says,
O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman?
and establishes Macbeth as being good and great at the beginning of the play. The King uses the word ?worthy? which indicates Macbeth must be worthy of what he has ( his title of thane of Glamis ) and shows the king?s appreciation of Macbeth.
At the end of Act 1 Scene 2, Duncan says in reference to the thane of Cawdor,
What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won?
and indicates that Macbeth is to be granted with the new title. Again, Macbeth is praised and described as noble.
We are beginning to see in Macbeth some key attributes of a Shakespearean Tragic Hero.
The next part of the description says that a tragic hero
Falls from prominence due to flaws in their personality?.
Macbeth, however, does not follow these guidelines. He does have flaws in his personality, which I will describe later, yet instead of falling from prominence, Macbeth grows in it. His personality and morals, however, fall and this could be a variation from Shakespeare in his description of the attributes of a Shakespearean Tragic Hero.
Macbeth has two main flaws in his personality, ambition and impressionability. Ambition is not necessarily a bad thing but in the case of Macbeth, his ambition is huge and seemingly impossible, which leads him to take action which is wrong and immoral to achieve these ambitions.
Macbeth proves that these ambitions exist in Act 1 Scene 4 where he says,
Let not light see my black and deep desires?.
This quotation does not only prove that such ambition exists, but also that he does not want to show it.
Macbeth?s ambition is to be King of Scotland and this ambition is brought about due to an aspect of his impressionism which will be explained later. Macbeth?s ?new ? found? ambition leads him to take rash and sudden action and is one of his main character flaws.
Macbeth?s impressionism exists on two fronts, being his wife, Lady Macbeth and the three witches.
The witches are able to predict the future. This fact is proven early in the play when the witches hail Macbeth as,
Thane of Cawdor?.
This is before Macbeth has been given the title and he challenges the witches as the Thane of Cawdor still lives.
Macbeth is subsequently granted with the title, however, and he realises that the witches can predict the future. The witches also say,
All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter?.
Macbeth now knows that he will be king and this inevitably increases his ambition and alters his actions throughout the rest of the play. The witches also say to Banquo,
Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none?.
This line from the witches implies that Banquo?s children will be King, as the word ?get? shows possession. They also tell Banquo that he is no king and also tell Macbeth that he will be king. This prophecy encourages Macbeth and enables his conscience to allow him to take such action as to fulfil the witches? prophecies.
The witches, however, are not out to help Macbeth. In Act 3 Scene 5, Hectate, the queen of witchcraft, says:
As by the strength of their illusion
Shall draw him on to his confusion?.
This shows us that Hectate, as well as the witches are aiming to confuse Macbeth, proved by the dialogue of the second line. The first line shows us that the witches are aware of Macbeth?s easily influenced mind and are not afraid to take advantage of the fact that he is easily led. The word ?strength? indicates two things. Firstly, the strength of the witches and the supernatural world as they are able to predict the future as well as performing other supernatural deeds. Also, it indicates the severity of Macbeth?s easily influenced mind which, in the case of Macbeth is a bad thing.
Once Macbeth has reached the status of King of Scotland, the witches are able to abuse their power over Macbeth even more. In Act 4 Scene 1, Macbeth says,
I conjure you by that which you profess?.
This shows the reader that Macbeth is completely dependent on the Witches and their predictions and he relies on their prophecies. The Witches use this to their advantage and begin to tell Macbeth half ? truths. The witches say such things as,
The power of man, for none of woman born
Shall harm Macbeth?
Macbeth shall never vanquished be until
Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill
Shall come against him?.
Macbeth trusts the witches and due to this, does not realise that there are flaws in what the witches are saying. Firstly, the witches tell Macbeth that no man of woman born can harm him. Macbeth takes this as meaning that no man can harm him. He overlooks the fact, however, that Macduff, the eventual killer of Macbeth, was born by a caesarean section and therefore is not ?of women born?.
They also say that he will not be defeated until Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane hill. Macbeth takes this as being impossible also, but he is proved wrong when the soldiers disguise themselves among the trees and foliage and move up the hill, fulfilling the witches? guidelines.
The witches lured Macbeth into a false sense of security and it backfired on him.
The witches are only one example of Macbeth?s impressionism, however, his wife, Lady Macbeth also influences him and persuades him to carry out such acts in order to obtain the title of the King of Scotland.
To achieve his specific aim, Macbeth must carry out some evil and atrocious deeds. In this case, murder. Macbeth must murder in order to become king. Amongst his victims are Duncan, Banquo and Lady Macduff. It is clear from this that Macbeth has become evil and this is reiterated by Lennox in Act 3 Scene 6 where he says,
May soon return to this our suffering country
Under a hand accursed?.
Macbeth, due to reasons already discussed has become evil and committed evil deeds, in this case, murder. Macbeth has now made the transcension from good to evil and will subsequently suffer due to his actions. Macbeth also realises that what he is doing is evil and wrong. He proves this twice, firstly in Act 3 Scene 2 where he says,
Things bad begun, make strong themselves by ill?.
Also in Act 3 Scene 4 he remarks,
We are yet but young in deed?.
This last quotation shows the reader that Macbeth is perfectly aware of what he is doing and realises that there are still more murders to be committed. This is essentially evil as Macbeth has already murdered and knows what it is like yet still wants and needs more.
Going back to the witches, they know from the start that Macbeth will become evil. They say,
Fair is foul, and foul is fair?.
Macbeth reiterates this with,
So foul and fair a day I have not seen?.
The meaning of both remarks is that the day is good and evil at the same time. Macbeth has been victorious in battle and is about to be granted with a new title. This is counter-balanced by evil, however, which is, in this case, Macbeth himself. The witches know that Macbeth will become evil and this shows us that Macbeth has the evil in him all along but simply does not show it until necessary.
The best quotation for describing Macbeth?s evilness is spoken by Malcolm in Act 4 Scene 3 where he says, in reference to Macbeth,
I grant him bloody
Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful,
Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin
That has a name.?
This really sums up Macbeth and all the evils about him and is the best quotation in the play to prove that he has now become evil.
After or whilst achieving their desire, a Tragic Hero will battle with their conscience. Macbeth is an excellent example of this and constantly battles with his conscience throughout the play.
The first example of Macbeth battling with his conscience is in Act 1 Scene 3 where he says as part of a soliloquy,
Present fears are less than horrible imaginings.
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man that function
Is smothered in surmise, and nothing is,
But what is not.?
This shows us that although Macbeth is ambitious enough to kill the king, he still has a conscience and finds the thought almost revolting in his mind. He does not, however, dismiss the idea and is still plotting to kill the king as his ambition is overpowering his conscience. Before the killing of Duncan, Macbeth battles again with his own conscience. Not only does he do this, but he begins to hallucinate also,
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand ? Come, let me clutch thee:
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.?
In Act 3 Scene 4, Macbeth also sees the ghost of Banquo and this again is his conscience speaking, this time not in the form of an object as in the murder weapon but in the form of the victim. This shows the reader that Macbeth?s remorse is growing and is now on a much larger scale. His conscience is getting the better of him and Macbeth is involved in an eternal battle with it.
As I mentioned in my description of a Shakespearean Tragic Hero, people suffer due to their actions. It is clear simply from the plot that people do suffer as a result of Macbeth?s actions. As I have already mentioned, people are murdered by Macbeth throughout the play and Lady Macbeth also suffers. She is stricken with guilt as well as Macbeth,
Out damned spot !?
Lady Macbeth remarks whilst hallucinating about blood on her hands. The murder victims and Lady Macbeth are not the only ones to suffer though. As I mentioned in my description, nature can also suffer. In the case of Macbeth, it does. In Act 2 Scene 4, Ross and an old man discuss some strange goings on;
A falcon tow?ring in her pride of place
Was by a mousing owl hawked at and killed?
Duncan’s horses, a thing most strange and certain?
Tis said they eat each other?.
The men are describing the darkness surrounding Duncan?s death. They talk of owls killing falcons and horses eating each other whilst the sun is obscured. These unnatural events are a result of Macbeth?s evil deeds and are really used to remind the reader of what Macbeth has done and reiterate the fact that it is evil.
Although there is no evidence to support it, Macbeth definitely receives empathy from the audience. The battles with conscience aid Macbeth in achieving this and from having read the play, I can say that Shakespeare is successful in stirring empathy from the reader or audience in the case of Macbeth.
In Act 5 Scene 9,
Macbeth is slain?.
This fulfils the last part of the description of a Shakespearean Tragic Hero as the hero dies at the end of the play and good prevails.
In conclusion, I will say that although Macbeth does not fulfil or follow all the guidelines of a Shakespearean Tragic Hero ( He grows in prominence rather than falling from it ), Macbeth, in my opinion can definitely be described as a tragic hero. He fulfils all but one of the guidelines, most exceptionally well as he excels in firstly impressionism and secondly evil. He also dies at the end which is the key part of being a tragic hero. Macbeth is one of, if not the best of Shakespeare?s tragic hero?s.