A Tragic Hero

The character of Macbeth is a classic example of a Shakespearean tragic hero. There are many factors which contribute to Macbeth being termed a tragic hero.  It is important to understand what the characteristics of a tragic hero are.

Typically, a tragic hero is a figure of high stature, often of noble background. This person is predominantly good, but suffers a self-inflicted fall, due to flaws in their personality. The tragic hero has a tremendous downfall, brought about by their hamartia. Finally, a Shakespearean tragic hero will lose their life in the end of the play so the message of what is good in the play can be reestablished. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the title figure of the play can be seen as a tragic hero.

Early on in the play, Macbeth is established as being of great stature.  He has already earned the title of Thane of Glamis, and as prophesized by the three witches, will soon take reign as the Thane of Cawdor. These titles indicate that Macbeth is of great political importance, and is moving up in the ranks of Scottish nobility. In Act 1, Scene 2, Duncan addresses Macbeth as, “…valiant cousin, worthy gentleman!” and later as a “Worthy Thane”. The manner in which the leaders of his country speak about Macbeth truly shows his respectable and honorable nature. Duncan speaks highly of Macbeth,; unaware of the destiny Macbeth will later impose on him.

Macbeth’s blind ambition, along with the provoking of his wife, leads him to take a violent and bloody path to the throne. Following the format of a tragic hero, Macbeth suffers from a tragic flaw. He has multiple flaws in character, the most prominent being his vaulting ambition and his impressionability. After the witches told Macbeth about his bright future of nobility in Scotland, his honorable nature seemed to fade, and was soon replaced by a “by any means necessary” attitude. His lust for power, along with persuasive words from Lady Macbeth, led to him murdering King Duncan in his sleep.  Macbeth was crowned King of Scotland, which led to extreme paranoia, fearing anyone with a noble bloodline as a threat to his power. By the end of the play, four deaths can be attributed to Macbeth’s name, all murdered in hopes of protecting his kingship. His ambition blinds him from seeing the destructive path he has created, ruling as a tyrant rather than a noble king. His easily impressionable nature causes him to not form his own thoughts, but rather listen to the words of Lady Macbeth and the three witches. These tragic flaws go on to play a major role in Macbeth’s demise.

Macbeth’s tragic flaws lead him to become a tyrant and with the bloody path he made for himself, his fall from power was inevitable. Macbeth’s bloody actions ended with him having to fear for his own life, as thousands in Scotland wanted him dead. Macbeth was aware that his evil deeds would lead to people wanting revenge. However, he did not fear these people, as he fell for the deceptive words of the witches. The three witches told him to be bold and fearless, that no man born of a woman could defeat him, and that he will never be defeated until the trees of Great Birnam Wood attack Dunsinane. Macbeth saw both of these things as impossible, so he did little to protect his castle. He was surprised when he was told that the forest was indeed attacking his castle, which was actually Macduff’s army carrying branches as a means of camouflage. His true anagnorisis came during his battle with Macduff, where Macduff revealed he was not born of woman, rather he was ripped form his mother’s womb, implying a Caesarean section. In this moment Macbeth was enlightened about his vulnerability. Macduff goes on to behead Macbeth, ensuring that his own family did not die in vain. With his death, Macbeth solidifies himself as a tragic hero. The audience learns the dangers of ambition, and good is reestablished.

Macbeth fits every characteristic of a Greek and Shakespearean tragic hero. The audience gets to see the full cycle of a rise to power, followed by a great demise. His ambition leads to his degeneration as a character which resulted in his ultimate downfall, death.

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