Full version Macbeth: A Tragic Hero

Macbeth: A Tragic Hero

This print version free essay Macbeth: A Tragic Hero.

Category: English

Autor: reviewessays 23 December 2010

Words: 1441 | Pages: 6

Tragedy occurs to some more often to others, but most define it differently. Webster’s Dictionary defines it as “a kind of drama in which some fatal or mournful event occurs” (764). To philosophers and traditional writers philosophy takes on another meaning. For example, to famous philosophical figure Aristotle, “tragedy occurs when noble or great persons are led, through pride or a secret flaw in their personalities, to suffering that changes their fortune. The tragic hero must begin in a high position and end in death or some sort of degraded role” (Definitions of Tragedy). Based on human nature, Aristotle’s philosophy of tragedy, and current literary criticism of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the main character, Macbeth, is classified as a tragic hero.

Born in 384 B.C. at Stagirus, well known philosopher Aristotle was a student to Plato for over twenty years. Growing up on this Greek Colony and attending lectures, he acquired and retained new information. His father was a well known physician and scientist therefore Aristotle’s knowledge was broadened by his father. Unlike Plato, Aristotle studied the natural and sensory world; “while Plato used his reason, Aristotle used his senses” (Gaarder 107) He said that “things that are in the human soul were purely reflections of natural objects” (Gaarder 107). Aristotle believed that reason is mans most distinguishing characteristic; Macbeth had great lack of reason. When the first murder occurred, Macbeth did not anticipate the outcomes of the events, thus is soul was infected with selfish thought, and to him, nothing else mattered.

A human soul in Aristotle’s words is “the perfect expression or realization of a natural body,” which Macbeth follows (Aristotle). His internal instinct led his actions and soon to his main goal. Fellow philosopher Democritus, (460-370 B.C.), believed that all men are just mechanical and made up of different substances (Gaarder 44). If, his belief that there is no spiritual fore in nature, and everything happens mechanically is true, then Macbeth could not control his actions thus is innocent of his crimes. To Macbeth, it meant that he was destined to become king, and mechanically could not manage his own actions. This is because Macbeth’s imagination is “plunging deeper and deeper into unreality,” and turns into uncontrollable desires and wants (Knight 42). These two elements of soul and imagination are able to cause a dreadful combination of tragedy and misfortune. A Shakespearian critic implies that, “once caught by the devils bait, only at the end he is able to express his inward state openly” (Davidson 92). Wayne Booth, another critic, reasons that only, “a highly individualized noble man is sent to complete moral, intellectual and physical destruction” (85). Although Macbeth only recognized his sin towards the end and caused major destruction without much moral, he fought like a noble man and faced his flaws, which is important to Aristotle’s definition of tragedy.

Human nature plays a great role in everyday life and actions of people. Human nature is made up of many elements; greed, guilt, and morality to name a few. People like to bathe themselves in self indulgence; which Macbeth demonstrates throughout the play. He first followed his desires to kill Duncan and become king, in order to gain nobility and stature. “Macbeth, like the whole universe of this play, is paralyzed, mesmerized, as though in a dream,” adds Booth. Macbeth is tempted to do evil in order to indulge himself, but after the crime is completed, he begins to realize that yes - his crown is indeed “fruitless”. Shakespeare did a great job underlining Macbeth to be a somewhat a moral person. He made his character become “isolated from humanity lonely, endures to the uttermost torture of isolation,” explains Knight. He only kills to indulge his wants and he does not think of the consequences to follow. At the end, he “reforms and avoids his proper punishment” (Booth 85). In Act 1, Scene 5, Macbeth says, “Yet do I fear thy nature; it is too full o’ milk of human kindness:” he is a moral human being because he fears kindness and does not trust others. He also makes several sacrifices in the duration of the play; “he must sell his eternal jewel to gain an earthly crown” and give up his inner pride (Davidson 92). The reader finds out that Macbeth has a very strong inner desire to be king when he listens closely to the witch’s prophecy, and then follows it. This subconscious desire was filling him with guilt and causing several hallucinations to occur. In Act 2, Scene 1 Macbeth recites, “Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand?” referring to nothing but his mind playing jokes on him. And after the first murder, Macbeth while losing

sleep cried out, “Me though I heard a voice cry ‘sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep!’”(Act 2, Scene 2). This character’s guilty mind does not permit him to cope with his sin and move on, he even cannot “wash the blood off” his hands. Once he begins the sin, he must continue it to prolong his thrown by killing everyone in his way, one thing this hard headed character did not take into account, for example Duncan’s two sons. Next, when Banquo is killed out of Macbeths fear and rage, one Shakespearian critic believes it “symbolizes his guilty soul” (Knight 41). If Macbeth killed his friend out of his own guilt, then Aristotle was right when he said “Misfortune shows those who are not really friends” (Aristotle Quotes).

Finally, modern day criticisms of Shakespeare’s work outline many aspects on making Macbeth a tragic hero. First, Wilson Knight’s essay, “Fear, Evil, and Nightmare in Macbeth”, explains that Macbeth is helpless as a man in a nightmare: and this helplessness is integral to the conception. He cannot get out of the chain that he has started and fears that the sin will never leave. Furthermore a tragic hero like Macbeth does indeed have “secret flaws in their personalities” as Aristotle believed. From these events Macbeth turns into a raging machine, although to Duncan he appeared to be “as an angel of light; inwardly, he ravening wolf in the service of darkness” (Davidson 51).

Royalty in Macbeth’s eyes is like authority in today’s society. Macbeth sees the king as the highest power, thus idolizes him. Like Aristotle once said, “the only stable state is the one in which all men are equal before the law” (Aristotle Quotes). Macbeth tries to accomplish this stable state by becoming it, my taking Duncan’s place as leader. Also, Shakespeare’s works lead critics to believe that Macbeth was guided by the witch’s apparitions. Because they “promise him success in terms of natural law…he thinks to build his future on the laws of reality,” Macbeth forgets the reality and enters a world of fantasy that is false (Booth 52). In addition, he contends for his own individual soul against the universal reality, but still stays determined to keep his position. “Man can only achieve happiness by using all his abilities and capabilities” as Aristotle would add.

( Gaarder 111).

Hypocrisy is one of the main themes critics believe is present in this tragic hero. Davidson explains, “ derives of sensitivity and makes him a tyrant guilty of wrongs.” Macbeth never feels pity at the end of the play and does not agree with his wrong doings, he is his own fool who is “lightened by his death, which is symbolized by the extinguishing of the ‘Brief Candle’ ” (99). Davidson also argues that the “Tomorrow” speech destroyed all moral distinctions and values (93).

In conclusion it is evident that Macbeth can be truly classified as a tragic hero after interpreting Aristotle’s definition and applying it to Macbeth’s character. Throughout the play, Macbeth is seen as an out of control ranging mad man that is out to achieve his grievous self indulging ambitions. In the long run he struggles, but cannot fight the inevitability of his demise. As Davidson concludes, Macbeth’s path leads to, “despair and death” (94). Seeing that, Shakespeare’s way to express himself was through his characters, in Act 2, Scene 3, his character states, “There’s daggers in men’s smiles.” This implies that not every man is perfect and that everyone has some imperfections that somebody somewhere will not be satisfied with. To Macbeth he was his own self, and he was aiming for what he truly desired. His actions were purely from his heart, this is why in Act 4, Scene 2, he implies, “When our actions do not, our fears do make us traitors.”