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Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow
Macbeth. Act V, Scene V, Lines 19-24
In one of his most celebrated plays, ‘Macbeth’, William Shakespeare illustrates the classical tragic hero pattern: a character regarded with the utmost admiration, demoted to an evil villain, despised by all. Like most tragic heroes, Macbeth has hidden flaws which ultimately lead to his fall from grace. Influences from other characters play a role in his downfall, but the greatest cause comes from his own actions and thoughts. Murdering the
beloved king caused his future subjects to loose faith in his leadership. His delusional suspicion of others isolated him and drove him mad. Finally, his failure to recognize the warning signs of danger led to his doom. As a result of his ruthless quest for power which set in motion the resistance against him, the growing paranoia that caused him to make more enemies, and his failure to heed the warnings of the danger mounting towards him, Macbeth
himself is the one responsible for his own tragic downfall.
Led by his overpowering ambition, Macbeth commits the greatest act of treason against his country; and when discovered, makes the noblemen rethink their loyalty to their king. Upon the discovery of Duncan’s body, Macbeth announces that he accidentally killed the attendants, who appeared to be the guilty party. Responding to this, Macduff asks him, “Wherefore did you so?” (2.3.108) The first signs of suspicion come from Macduff, who
distrusts Macbeth after he hastily ‘destroys the evidence’ at the crime scene. This is important because over time, Macduff’s suspicions grow, and provide him with a reason for fleeing to England and forming a rebellion against Macbeth. Furthermore, after his
confession speech at the royal banquet, the thanes and noblemen realize Macbeth’s great treason. His friends and subjects desert him, and soon fall in league with Macduff and Malcolm. “Thither Macduff is gone to pray the holy king, upon his aid to wake
Northumberland and war-like Siward.” (3.6.29-31) As a result of his crimes and his guilty confession to everyone, a resistance army builds up and marches towards Macbeth. Left with only a handful of soldiers, Macbeth’s own ambition led the armada of then thousand
troops to attack his castle, leading to his downfall.
Once king, Macbeth’s guilty conscience causes him to grow more and more paranoid; isolating himself and making enemies of his friends. His once close comrade Banquo now becomes the target of this attention, because of the prophecy given to him by the three witches. Seeing this as a threat to his crown, Macbeth decides to rid himself of Banquo and his son in order to secure his future. “There is none but he whose being I do fear; and under him my genius is rebuk’d” (3.1.54-56) Banquo’s mysterious disappearance is soon solved when his bloody ghost attends the banquet, and Macbeth
inadvertently reveals his part in the deed. This causes the thanes and lords to suspect Macbeth of Banquo and Duncan’s murders, and to rethink their loyalty to him. After this, Macbeth revisits the witches where he is told to ‘beware Macduff, beware the Thane of Fife’. Perhaps meant as a distraction, or to force him into a confrontation, Macbeth decides to slaughter Macduff’s entire household. “The castle of Macduff I will surprise; seize upon
Fife; give to the edge of the sword his wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls that trace him in his line.” (4.1.150-153) The news of this ruthless act of violence reaches Macduff, as he is preparing his troops against Macbeth. Distraught by his treachery, Macduff decides to attack Dunsinane immediately and lay revenge upon Macbeth. This leads to Macbeth’s downfall, as his castle is overrun and his reign brought to an end. As a result of his thoughtless murders intended to keep his crown, Macbeth became isolated and his once good friends became his mortal enemies.
Soon deep within his own world, Macbeth is blind to his surroundings, and fails to respond to the warnings given to him or recognize the great forces mounting against him. After the witches inform him to ‘beware Macduff’, Macbeth learns that he shall never be
defeated unless ‘Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come’. “That will never be: who can impress the forest, bid the tree unfix his earth-bound root? Sweet bodements! good!” (4.1.95-96) Full of pride and arrogance, Macbeth shows no concern over his foretold doom. Instead of burning down or chopping up the forest to secure his fate, he chooses to disregard it as ludicrous and impossible. This act of foolishness allows the prophecy to come true, and aids in the destruction of Macbeth. Also, after they arrive on the countryside, Macbeth learns of the ten thousand troops led by Malcolm and Macduff, who plan to seize the castle. “I’ll fight till from my bones my flesh be hack’d. Give me my armor.” (5.3.32-33) Rather than flee the castle or the country, Macbeth decides to stay and engage in battle. This shows his total blindness towards his immanent death; all the prophecies of his doom have come true, and yet he still believes he can take on ten thousand troops alone. Unable to recognize the dangers facing him, Macbeth is responsible for his own death, because he let his guilty conscience cause a lack of judgment.
As a result of his ruthless quest for power which set in motion the resistance against him, the growing paranoia that caused him to make more enemies, and his failure to heed the warnings of the danger mounting towards him, Macbeth himself is the one responsible for his own tragic downfall. As with most tragic heroes, Macbeth’s character flaws destroyed his future and proved fatal in the end. Doomed from the start, his monstrous quest for power turned into nothing more than a sad fight for survival. In one of his greatest plays, Shakespeare’s use of the tragic hero pattern makes us both despise and pity Macbeth. We hate him when he slaughters and innocent family, and feel sorry for him when he realizes his
downfall is of his own making; illustrated in his speech, “To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow”.