Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Macbeth: A Tragic Hero

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Macbeth: A Tragic Hero

In Shakespeare’s tragedies, one element is consistent- the tragic hero. Each tragic hero shares certain traits that contribute to his tragedy. From Othello to Macbeth, each hero is a man of high estate or high ranking. Also, they each possess some flaw or obsession that will eventually lead to their demise. The characters do not have to be inherently “good”, or moral, but they do have to have some undiscovered potential that makes the audience feel that they could have done great things. The audience admires and pities these characters for that reason, but when the death of the tragic hero comes it often brings a sense of relief. Macbeth is one of the best examples of a tragic hero, and by studying the events that lead to his death, one can learn of the process all tragic heroes go through on the path to their downfall.

Before Macbeth is even introduced to the audience, Duncan and Ross speak of his greatness. When it is discovered that the Thane of Cawdor has surrendered, Duncan decides to give Macbeth this title “What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won”. This lets the audience see Macbeth’s rank, which starts him in the right direction for a tragic hero. As Macbeth starts to believe the prophecies of the witches that he will be the Thane of Cawdor, Glamis, and the King, the audience starts to see his obsession with his destiny “Stars, hide your fires;/ Let not light see my black and deep desires”. This great ambition will turn into the flaw that hurtles Macbeth to his demise.

Macbeth is convinced, partly by his own ambition and partly because of his wife, that he should murder Duncan in order to take the position of King. In accordance with the other tragedies, the events that follow move rather quickly, and Macbeth kills Duncan “I go, and it is done. The bell invites me. / Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell/ That summons thee to heaven or to hell” . Macbeth is to be coronated King, but as with other tragic characters, he seems to be isolated from the people who he began this journey with. When the audience hears his plans to kill Banquo, it is obvious that Macbeth has transformed into a completely evil character “It is concluded, Banquo, thy soul’s flight, / If it find heaven, must find it out tonight”. Not even his wife is involved with all of his affairs anymore, and it seems as if his ambitions have become so compulsive that nothing will stop him. Macbeth is suffering from his isolation, and his symptoms! of sleeplessness and hallucinations of Banquo’s ghost are proof of this, as Lady Macbeth gives this advice “You lack the season of all natures, sleep”.


In scene 6 of act , the audience learns of the army that is getting together against Macbeth lead by Malcolm. This is the opposition that is present in each tragedy used to bring it to a conclusion. Macbeth, however, is sure that he will reign victorious since the witches prophesized that “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until/ Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill/ Shall come against him”. He is sure that this is impossible, but when Malcolm orders each soldier to carry a branch from a tree as they attack Macbeth’s castle, it seems that Macbeth’s death is inevitable. When he learns of his wife’s death, he realizes that his ambition has lead to his downfall and that he will die “I ‘gin to be aweary of the sun,/ And wish th’ estate o’ the world were now undone”. In his last attempt at greatness, Macbeth runs out to the battlefield to fight with Malcolm’s army. He is not afraid of dying since the witches also told him that “for none of woman born/ Shall harm Macbeth”. He defeats Siward, but then is confronted by Macduff. Macbeth realizes that his end is near when he learns that Macduff was not born from a woman but instead “Macduff was from his mother’s womb/ Untimely ripped”. Macbeth is killed by Macduff and order is restored to Scotland with the naming of a new King, Malcolm.

MACDUFF. The time is free.

I see thee compassed with thy kingdom’s pearl,

That speak my salutation in their minds,

Whose voices I desire aloud with mine

Hail, King of Scotland!



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