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A tragic hero is a literary device commonly used across almost every piece ever written by the genius of British literature, William Shakespeare. When readers immerse themselves in the acts and scenes of “Macbeth,” they can see it as clearly as day: Macbeth falls into every category that describes an average tragic hero in literature.
In the play Macbeth, the protagonist wants to become a king of Scotland no matter what, and because of this, he commits lots of evil actions that eventually lead to his downfall, total degradation of his character and his eventual death. There are 3 simple pieces of evidence to prove that the protagonist of the play “Macbeth” is indeed a textbook tragic hero:
- The three Witches’ prediction encourages Macbeth to try his best to take over the throne of the King of Scotland.
- Lady Macbeth puts ideas into Macbeth’s head that lead him to murder the King.
- Macbeth’s ambition of becoming the next King sets him on a path of destruction through crimes and violence.
To analyze the individual behind the Macbeth character, we should dive deeper into every separate piece of evidence.
Witches’s predictions coming true
As for the first one, the witches’ foretellings support the claim proving that Macbeth is a tragic hero as these prophecies boost his ambitions and thrive to become the King. It is evident when the second Witch says, “All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor”. Once those words leave the Witch’s mouth, Macbeth instantly realizes that the predictions are coming true because of the promotion Macbeth receives when the King promotes Macbeth to Thane of Cawdor. There were multiple reasons for that: Macbeth was a great general, a skillful master of his craft, and a brave, courageous and loyal man. Such growth made the character full of himself and left him feeling invisible: if he could achieve a better title, he definitely would be able to aim for something better.
These cases created even better circumstances for the general’s downfall, as he switched from respecting Duncan and serving him to plotting his murder, as Macbeth decided that he desired the throne more than anything else.
Moreover, when a different Witch says, “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter,” Macbeth knows better that he should believe the mystical creature as 2 of the previous predictions has already come true. This event drives his ambition to become King as he kills Duncan instead of waiting to be King as the prophecy said.
As the character feels like getting rid of all his competition, each act of violence makes him more and more paranoid daily. One of the last examples of Macbeth being a true tragic hero is when the third Witch says that Banquo’s kids will inherit the throne. When Macbeth hears this, he is eager to know more about the prophecies, so he pressures the witches to speak, but they simply vanish. Later, when Macbeth realizes the foretellings keep coming true, he kills Banquo and his son as they are seen as a threat. Witches’profficiencies are one of the key reasons that pursuaded the protagonist to pursue the run for the throne. The prophecies send him down the rabbit hole he would never be able to return from.
Is the Lady the problem, or her ambitions?
Secondly, Macbeth is a tragic hero because he is always under pressure from his wife, who strongly influences the man. Once the heroine reads the letter from Macbeth, she realizes that Macbeth’s good nature of not harming anyone will stand in the way of him putting everything he has into fighting for the throne. This is evident when Lady Macbeth says, “I may pour my spirits in thine ear/ And chastise with the valor of my tongue/ All that impedes thee from the golden round,/ Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem/ To have thee crowned withal.” The situation proves that Lady Macbeth is willing to convince Macbeth to do anything he can to become King. Additionally, Macbeth was unsure about killing Duncan because the character felt guilty for attempting to kill his loyal master.
Nevertheless, after Lady Macbeth begins attacking the husband’s manhood and states that he does not have what it takes to kill the King, Macbeth decides to prove himself to the spouse by murdering Duncan. This situation is proved by the following quote: “Come, you spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,/ And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full/ Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood”. This proves that Lady Macbeth is the driving force behind Macbeth’s actions. She is willing to give up her womanhood to commit the crime because she knows how loyal Macbeth is. Such an interaction makes the audience pity Macbeth because he is loyal and innocent. However, since he was bullied into murdering the King, he would have to live with this guilt and continue being on the dark side due to Lady Macbeth’s influence.
Similarly, Lady Macbeth is set on gaining power, like convincing Macbeth to kill King Duncan. It is seen in the quote, “We fail!/ But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we’ll not fail./ When Duncan is asleep”. The following quote again illustrates that Lady Macbeth’s influence on Macbeth is huge: “Wouldst thou have that/ Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,/ And live a coward in thine own esteem,/ Letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would.” Once the general commits the murder, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are driven to the dark path as Lady Macbeth’s hope of becoming a queen someday takes over her whole existence. Furthermore, through these events, it becomes evident that Lady Macbeth has all of the skills to bring out the evil side of Macbeth. After Duncan dies, Macbeth’s tragic weakness, which is manic ambition, grows, and he eventually becomes King but continues to kill innocent people on his way to the top.
Are ambitions helpful or distructive?
Finally, Macbeth can be considered a tragic hero because of his strong ambition to become the King of Scotland. He is self-destruction to attain the title of a King; thus, he later kills Macduff’s family as they are seen as threats. This is demonstrated in the quote, “Seize upon Fife, give to th’ edge o’ th’ sword/ His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls/ That trace him in his line./ No boasting like a fool”. Macbeth’s ambition has made him disloyal and violent. Additionally, when Macbeth finally becomes King, he rules as a tyrant, not a monarch. This is explained when Malcolm says, “This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues, Was once thought honest.” Furthermore, by the end of the play, it is evident that Macbeth is not happy as he was before. Macbeth’s tragic flaw made him give up everything he had and kill everyone he was tight with just to sit on the throne. Although he does gain power, he loses people who were there for him. This is especially seen when Lady Macbeth dies, as Macbeth does not spend any time mourning her properly. Macbeth states, “She should have died hereafter. There would have been a time for such a word. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow”. He feels sadness and regrets hearing the news of his wife’s passing but still goes into battle. His ambition has got many people he cared about murdered so that he can become the tyrant he is in the end.
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Macbeth can be considered a tragic hero in this play, as he fulfills all the characteristics of such a character. Despite sometimes being seen as role models, tragic heroes end up suffering and defeated. This is exactly what Macbeth experienced throughout this dramatic play. His ambitions can inspire many, as he fought for what he believed in. However, in his journey toward becoming King, he becomes a tyrant, slowly giving up his virtuous and sympathetic traits.
In conclusion, according to Aristotle, “A man cannot become a hero until he can see the root of his downfall.” A tragic hero must have some virtues and be a mix of good and terrible. As proved above, Macbeth is a tragic hero because of the prophecy from the three witches, Lady Macbeth’s influence and Macbeth’s ambition. The three witches kindled Macbeth’s dreadful ambition, convincing him to take more than he already has. Macbeth’s ambition makes him chase his desires, leading him to destroy himself. So, as Macbeth fulfills these requirements, he can be called a tragic hero.
- Shakespeare, W. (1992). Macbeth. Wordsworth Editions.