William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, from the play Macbeth is a classic example of a tragic hero. A character from an Elizabethan play will usually have to fulfil certain characteristics and realisations to become a tragic hero. First of all they must be good. Their character must initially be a hero. They must then be subject to an event, that brings forth their tragic flaw; which coupled with their own choices and outside factors will make them deteriorate morally. They must be of a certain stature, so that their misguided decisions and actions will effect a range of people. Following this they must recognise their tragic flaw, too late to realise that it has ultimately lead to their downfall . While a character may fulfil these requirements they cannot be a ‘tragic’ hero unless they are essentially a good person.
Macbeth being a good person, loyal to his king, having many respectable strengths but also being ambitious (so that his ambition could create tensions with his loyalty) means that he has the potential to become a tragic hero.
Macbeth is then subject to an event which brings fourth his tragic flaw. Macbeth and his close friend, Banquo, are waylaid by three witches while on their way to meet King Duncan. The three witches address Macbeth as ‘Thane of Glamis’, a title he holds already, then prophesize that he will become ‘thane of Cawdor, then King of Scotland. They also prophesize that Banquo, while, he himself will not become king, his descendants will. At this point, Macbeth becomes interested and demands, “Stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more”. Macbeth (Act I, Scene 3, Line 73).
Macbeth is soon after rewarded for being of such a great character and so loyal to the king, by being awarded to title, ‘Thane of Cawdor’. To this point, Macbeth had disregarded the witch’s prophecies, but now his ambition comes into play and he begins to entertain thoughts of becoming king.
A tragic hero is capable of actions both good and evil. A tragic hero is a character who is neither outright good nor outright evil, they choose their path which leads them to show more one than the other of these traits; although their path chosen is greatly influenced by their tragic flaw. When Macbeth was named Thane of Cawdor, he made an active moral decision to use this new power for evil, and take the life of his king; rather than use his power for the greater good. “I have no spur
to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’ other.”
Macbeth (Act I, Scene 7, Lines 26-28).
This shows that Macbeth made an active choice to follow through with his ambitious ways and take the life of his king.
Macbeth’s tragic flaw, ambition, coupled with outside factors lead to his downfall.
Fate played a major role in the downfall of Macbeth; Macbeth blindly believed in the fate that the witches had told him. When Macbeth met the witches, for a second time, it was the prophecy of fate that they foretold which influenced him in his evil decisions. Furthermore, once Macbeth has overthrown Duncan, he believes he is completely safe, and becomes arrogant with a sense of invincibility because he thinks he knows what the future holds. “Then live, Macduff: what need I fear of three?” Macbeth (Act IV, Scene 1, Line 85)
It was not only Macbeth’s decisions that lead to his downfall, but also the strong role of fate, an outside factor.
A tragic hero must realise their tragic flaw. Insight into their own failings is one of the key factors in Shakespearean tragic heroes. “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’ other.”
Macbeth (Act I, Scene 7, Lines 26-28).
This quote from early in the play, depicts how Macbeth, already, on some level has resigned to his ambition and accepts it as his own personal flaw.
A tragic hero must be, essentially, a good person. Macbeth is for the most part, a good person who possesses a tragic and ultimately fatal flaw, he is too ambitious. While Macbeth did commit terrible crimes that were both ethically and morally wrong, he also questioned himself after each act. Macbeth’s conscience was present even though he chose to continue with his ambitious actions. Proof of Macbeth’s conscience still being present while he committed his treacherous acts lies in the manifestations of his guilt; such as the floating dagger leading him to Duncan or ghost of Banquo, present at the banquet after his death. Macbeth can be seen to a good person who could not control his ambition, which led him to commit heinous crimes; for which he would feel so much guilt that it would manifest in the form of hallucinations.
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Macbeth is a classic example of an Elizabeth tragic hero. Macbeth fulfils all the characteristics and realisations required to be a tragic hero; he is first introduced as a hero, then he is subject to an event which brings forth his tragic flaw which is then coupled with fate to help bring his downfall, before which though, he recognises his flaw and accepts it. Macbeth is also, essentially, a good person who feels remorse at his actions and understands where he has gone wrong.
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