MacBeth – The Tragic Hero

I do not think that Macbeth fits into Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero. In defining a tragic hero, Aristotle clearly states that a tragic hero must be ‘renowned and prosperous’, not all good, nor all

bad, and must realize his tragic flaw at the end of the play. While Macbeth definitely has a tragic flaw, he does not fit into these three categories.

At first glance Macbeth might appear both wealthy and famous; at a closer look one would realize that when Macbeth and Banquo first stumble upon the three weird sisters they are both simply nobleman; equal in status to six other men mentioned in the play. Although Macbeth is a nobleman like many others, he is one of the most beloved by the king and trusted by the people. Duncan (the king) shows his favoritism to Macbeth when he makes him Thane of Cawdor (as the witches had predicted), and the inhabitants of Cawdor are thrilled to gain this trusted leader. Despite these facts, Macbeth is not very well known or rich at the point. Macbeth does eventually become king. If he had earned his kingship the way he did his thaneship, I would consider him ‘renowned and prosperous’, yet Macbeth became king by killing is faithful king Duncan, and his good friend Banquo; both acts that deserve decapitation, not royal placement. Aristotle said that a tragic hero should fall from royalty; Macbeth does die as the king, but I believe that he truly ‘falls’ the first time he so much as thinks about murdering Duncan.

It is hard to call a person (or character) all good or all bad, no matter what their actions prove; despite this, Macbeth’s actions are as close to all bad as one can get. Duncan’s murder was clearly cruel and unnecessary; yet because Macbeth is so ambitious to become king, it is somewhat justifiable, if the audience feels pity for Macbeth. Macbeth commits his second ruthless act of killing Duncan’s guards. Macbeth could have easily done without killing the guards, but his paranoia had already set in, and he wanted to make sure how much he adored Duncan. He explains this crime by saying “The expedition of my violent love outrun the pauser reason.” Assuring everyone that this was a crime of passion for the love of his king. While this too can be viewed as necessary to thwart off suspicion, this crime is hypocritical, and makes a mockery of the deceased king. After Duncan’s death, Macbeth is awarded the position of king; still he is not satisfied. Macbeth is haunted by the witches prediction “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none”, and in order to secure his position as king will last through generations Macbeth hires three murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. The fact that Macbeth kills his best friend without a second thought is horrendous, but Macbeth commits this crime to soothe his guilt stricken mind, so this murder can also be dismissed by the audience, because it was to save Macbeth’s sanity. After he kills Banqo, Macbeth becomes very suspicious of Macduff as well, and is desperate to have him killed. Macbeth discovers that Macduff is in England, and can not be harmed at that location; outraged Macbeth sends for murderers to kill Macduff’s wife, children, and servants. Before this one, Macbeth only murdered when he had a reason too. Killing the innocent family of Macduff takes away any pity the audience has for Macbeth, and makes him a horrible murderer. This last murder brings me to believe that perhaps Macbeth’s tragic flaw wasn’t only ambition, but a thirst for blood as well.

Aristotle’s tragic hero must also realize how his or her tragic flaw has led to their downfall. It is possible that when Macbeth says: “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.” He is recognizing how little he has done with his life. I think that this speech spoken by Macbeth is only signifying is disrespect for life, and how short and worthless it is to him. Because life means so little to Macbeth I think that it is easier for him to take it from other people, and not understand their pain.

All in all I do not think that Macbeth does not fit Aristotle’s mold of a tragic hero. Aristotle suggests that after seeing a play including a tragic hero, one should feel uplifted; while watching Macbeth slaughter innocent people I felt disgusted by his evil deeds. Perhaps Shakespeare did not write Macbeth to cleanse people, but to make people see how doing evil things may bring them what they want, but will never bring them happiness.