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Is Macbeth a Typical Tragic Hero?

Info: 2500 words (10 pages) Essay
Published: 22nd Jul 2021 in English Literature

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Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s typical tragic heroes. He can be seen as a man with many good traits. However, his one mistake fills his life with fear and regret at every step. Being the protagonist of the play, he is someone who can be admired. His qualities are shown in his battle skills and at the start we realise that Macbeth is a good soldier and is loyal to his King. His bravery and performance in Scotland’s battle is celebrated. “For brave Macbeth-well he deserves that name”. His greatness and courage in battle for his country eventually leads him to be a great thane and then a powerful king, making his actions have a significant impact on his country.

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His reluctance and guilt in killing Duncan also reveals his heroic nature. The reasons he displays to justify his guilt show Macbeth’s positive attributes and his potential in being a hero. “First, I am his kinsman and his subject, Strong both against the deed;” This shows that Macbeth is loyal to his family and feels that he owes his King obedience. This also portrays the qualities of Macbeth showing him as a hero. “As his host Who should against his murderer shut the door,” This shows Macbeth’s loyalty for his King as he is Duncan’s guest. Therefore, we can see that Macbeth’s conscience does not agree to kill Duncan. When Macbeth says “Not bear the knife myself.” we can deduce that he feels guilty and does not want to be responsible for such a crime that is against his moral code. He also recognises Duncan’s good attributes and feels that it would be wrong to murder such a person; “Duncan Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been So clear in his great office, that his virtues Will plead like angels,” This shows that he thinks highly of Duncan and respects him as he does not misuse his power. It shows that he knows the importance of Duncan and that everyone will cry at his death. This again reinforces the idea that Macbeth is a tragic hero as he may not have committed murder without the presence of Lady Macbeth. The quote “Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye” shows that he thinks Duncan is loved by all and everyone will cry in his absence. Therefore, we can see that Macbeth has many good traits and did not want to kill Duncan. He was tempted by Lady Macbeth and so is a tragic hero as he knew that he was making the wrong decision. Therefore we notice that his morals are important to him.

However, the one flaw in his character is responsible for the tragic events that occur during the whole play. This flaw is his ambition to be king and to gain power which becomes an obsession to remain in his current position. During his listing of reasons against the murder, near the end he interrupts himself and says “but only Vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself And falls on th’other. This shows he is a tragic hero as he recognises from the beginning that his ambition could be the cause of his downfall. His ambition reaches a point where he falls to the temptation of evil and the consequence is his inevitable downfall. Therefore, the hero we could see to begin with is corrupted and Macbeth is shown as a tragic hero in the pivotal point at which all is lost. His ambition is the major cause of his downfall. At every step his morals are taken over by his temptations. Even though he is a hero at heart, as we have seen from the start, his mistakes create a perception that he is evil. Hence, the term “tragic hero”

Although fate and ambition are responsible for Macbeth’s degeneration, Lady Macbeth and the witches are also at fault. As Macbeth becomes Thane of Cawdor and then Thane of Glamis, his dream to become King does not seem too distant. With the influence and manipulation of Lady Macbeth the ambitions hidden in Macbeth are strengthened and her evil scheme gradually tempts Macbeth. Her manipulative character causes Macbeth to concede to her talks and his small weakness overturns his whole life and changes his noble character into a violent and evil one. This in turn causes catastrophic results for Scotland and Macbeth is seen as a dire and corrupt king. This is recognised by Malcolm; “what I am truly is thine, and my poor country’s…” Therefore, his heroic character becomes that of a villain, and his plan to be a successful king backfires. He is a tragic hero because he was a noble, righteous person who could have achieved much more and would have been loved by all if he did not commit the murder of Duncan. The tragic part is that Macbeth was against the murder but was under the influence of evil individuals that changed his character.

Even though the witches do not directly influence Macbeth’s decisions, their prophecies seem to leave an impression on Macbeth, and boost his confidence throughout the play. They drive his ambition to an obsession. In the play, the three witches represent darkness, chaos, and conflict. The prophecies encourage Macbeth’s greed for power and make him over confident. This leads him into making mistakes as his character becomes weak and his morals are taken over by the power and temptation of the witches’ words. This weakness leads him to evil suggestion which inevitably causes his downfall. After the murder of Duncan, Macbeth is consumed by a life of evil. He is aware of the wrong he has committed and he wishes it never occurred. The evil actions motivated by his ambition seem to trap him in a cycle of increasing evil, as Macbeth himself recognises and is also aware that the wrongs cannot be undone. “I am in blood; stepp’d insofar that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as to go o’er.” Another topic that labels him as a tragic hero is his misery even after achieving all that he dreamed of. Macbeth always had a dream to become King. He was already a hero from the start and a noble person. However, after becoming corrupted and committing several murders his heroic side was not so evident. He was still not content after acquiring the throne and gaining so much power. This is part of what makes him a tragic hero, as, through his regret and sorrow we are able to see that he did not want the throne at the price of the lives he took. He only agreed due to the influence of the people and circumstances around him. Therefore, even though he gained all he dreamt of he was not pleased, as, within himself he felt guilt, showing that he is a tragic hero. His heroic nature is shown right up until the end when he says “At least we’ll die with harness on our back.” This quote shows his tremendous physical courage and his effort to be a good soldier right up to his death. This emphasises what he lost and that he could have been a hero in everyone’s eyes.

Macbeth’s mistake of solely relying on the witches prophecies gives him the impression that all are against him. As a consequence, he decides to kill his noble friend, Banquo, hoping to secure his crown; “Whose being I do fear; and under him my genius is rebuk’d… They hail’d him father to line of kings… If’t be so, for Banquo’s issue have I fil’d my mind.” Macbeth can be considered a tragic hero because in his effort to make the prophecies come true he tried to challenge fate himself rather than allowing it to take its course. By trusting the witches he became greedy for power. We can say that this greed forced him to commit crimes that were previously against his morals. This is tragic, as, despite knowing he was wrong he still continued in his desperation to remain king. He committed these evil deeds spontaneously and came to regret doing them later on in the play. Feelings such as guilt, regret and fear are shown throughout the play but one main occasion they are shown is during the scene where Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost at the table with his guests. From this scene we can clearly notice that the murder of Banquo is really upsetting him and is the cause of his mental breakdown; “Hence horrible shadow, Unreal mock’ry hence.” This indicates signs of a tragic hero because his conscience is troubling him, showing that he is truly a good-natured man.

During the play the witches’ prophecies strengthen his confidence and his decision to kill Duncan. They are somewhat responsible for creating a tragic hero of Macbeth in both sets of their apparitions. In the first set Macbeth receives the confidence and idea to even continue his ambition of becoming King as the witches’ words please him, and are exactly what he wants to hear. “Stay you imperfect speakers. Tell me more” This shows his desire to know more of what his ambition is. In the second set of prophecies, Macbeth’s confidence rises to a new level and he thinks that his victory is secure. In the second apparition given he feels as though he is invincible because it states” be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn The power of man, for none of woman born Shall harm Macbeth.” This creates the impression that he can commit any crime and get away with it. The other apparition states that he should be wary of Macduff. So he kills everyone in Macduff’s castle, including his family to secure his crown. However, Macduff is not born of a woman so is the man that can defeat him and is a large threat to him as he is enraged by the killing of his family. Due to this impression, Macbeth continues to make mistakes and from here his downfall is inevitable. One of the most tragic events and the biggest mistakes of Macbeth’s reign is the killing of Macduff’s family. This angers Macduff and his hatred for Macbeth becomes a promise to avenge the death of his family, and all that have suffered under his reign. So the contributions of the prophecies have influenced Macbeth’s decisions to a certain extent.

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Macbeth’s vulnerability to lady Macbeth is also the cause of his downfall, hence, turning him into a tragic hero. Her manipulative character and forceful nature greatly influences the evil deeds of Macbeth. At first Macbeth is against her plan to kill Duncan and his morals overrule his ambitions. However, Lady Macbeth lures him into her trap by taunting his manhood and calling him a coward. “And live a coward in thine own esteem”. Irrespective of his feelings she hurts him by saying that she would rather kill her baby than go back on her word; “Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums…Had I so sworn As you have done to do this.” Her advice about false appearances also convinces Macbeth and brings about a change within him. She gives herself to evil and becomes two-faced and so tells Macbeth to use a pretence face to show everyone but use it to hide all the dark secrets within; “look like th’innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t.” This advice slowly enters his mind and changes his heroic character into a villainous one. On accepting her advice, he almost dictates these words back showing that he has now become evil. “False face must hide what the false heart doth know”. This quote shows that Macbeth’s character has now gone through a major change and he is starting to instruct Lady Macbeth, so from here his downfall is evident. Lady Macbeth’s presence in his life can be seen as an influence that changed him into a tragic hero, as, he may have not committed such crimes if she did not exist. She ruined an excellent soldier and corrupted a sincere person who could have been so much more than what he became. As a result of his crimes, Macbeth became a hated person in contrast with the praises he used to receive on his bravery and success. The insults of Lady Macbeth drove him into confusion and he was driven into following her evil scheme. After his first murder his desire to maintain the reign of his people forces him to take several lives in his insecurity. This again depicts that he is a tragic hero, as, he did not intend to hurt anyone but in his desperation and under the influence of Lady Macbeth, he made many disastrous decisions.

In all of the influences so far mentioned we are able to see that the one weakness that befalls Macbeth causes his whole character to degenerate and turns him into a tragic hero. From being a respected, praised and loved man he becomes violent and evil. However as readers, we consider him to be a tragic hero because even though he is not bad at heart, we can see how circumstances and people around him have turned him into a hated person in Scotland. Therefore, in our view he is a tragic hero as he could have been so much more when all loved him, including King Duncan. However, we can blame him for his fate as he was not forced into committing such bad deeds, he chose to do them out of his own accord. Hence, he is partially at fault too, but in my opinion he is a tragic hero because he lost everything, respect, friends, love, name and many more things. His life may not have ended in such a way if Lady Macbeth and the three witches had not influenced his decisions.

Fate is a major theme in this play and many events revolve around it. It can be one major reason why Macbeth is a tragic hero. Macbeth felt that he could take fate into his own hands and change it according to his needs. “Rather than so, come fate into the list And champion me to th’utterance.” We realise that this was his biggest mistake as he had sole belief in the witches’ words and changed the natural cycle of events, rather than allowing them to occur according to fate. Macbeth’s religious nature is also important in the play as it can also be seen as a cause of his transformation into a tragic hero. He proclaims that he wants to live happily in this life no matter what the consequences are in his life after death; “We’d jump the life to come.” This shows his belief in life after death but shows he is willing to take risks. Macbeth still believes in judgement and justice as he says “We still have judgement here…return to plague th’ inventor.” This is tragic, as, despite knowing the difference between right and wrong he became trapped in a sin that could never be undone.

The consequences of Macbeth’s decisions did not just affect him; the whole of Scotland is shaken by the changes of the natural order. The most frequent natural order shown that is disturbed is sleep. The announcement that Macbeth makes says that he has “murdered sleep” which is mirrored in Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking. To conclude, Macbeth is a tragic hero because of his ambition to reach his goal from the very beginning and maintain it. Therefore, by the influence of fate, the witches’ prophecies, Lady Macbeth and ill-fated decisions, his character changed from a brave, courageous and loyal man to an evil being, despised by most in Scotland. Malcolm describes him and Lady Macbeth at the end saying 'Of this dead butcher and his fiend- like queen' This defines the tragic end of what Macbeth became and what people genuinely thought of him. Macbeth is a hero with one flaw, his ambition, which can be recognised as the main cause of his downfall, labelling him as a tragic hero.

 

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