The following is an essay on how the character of Macbeth serves as an example of a tragic hero in Shakespeares Macbeth. His tragic decision stems from the influence of a tragic flaw. Once he has made the decision, it is irreversible, and produces his downfall. In an attempt to save himself, the tragic hero tries to reverse his decision, but ultimately fails. Aristotle defined the tragic hero as the following: The tragic hero must be neither villain nor a virtuous man but a character between these two extremes… an who not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity but by some error or human frailty. ”
Aristotle The play follows Aristotles five-act pattern. In Act I, the Act of Introduction, the setting, characters, and plot are introduced to the reader. The background and setting of the play are introduced in order for the reader to fully understand it. In Act II, the Act of Development, the plot develops, the conflict intensifies, and signs of characters flaws appear. Act III is the Act of Tragic Decision.
Characters usually act under the influence of a tragic flaw, causing them to make a crucial decision. In Act IV, the Act of Falling Action, the character realizes the error in the decision. In a futile effort, they try to reverse it but ultimately fail. The damage is beyond repair. In Act V, the Act of Catastrophe, the character suffers the consequences of the decision, and is destroyed professionally, physically and socially. In Macbeth, Shakespeare strays from the traditional structuralist point of view and takes upon a more creative point of view in a sense that the tragic decision could be anywhere in the play.
Unlike most tragic plays, in Macbeth, the tragic decision does not occur in act three. Instead, he makes decisions that occur throughout the play, which do not necessarily happen in act three. Throughout the play, Macbeth is blinded by his ambition. The witches, Lady Macbeth, and his own insecurities aid in helping him carry out his actions. In the beginning of the play, we see him as a noble leader, and in the end, as a violent, desperate individual. In the first act, the witches awaken Macbeths ambition to rise to power.
In the second act, Lady Macbeth encourages him to commit the crime necessary for him to fulfill this ambition. Throughout the entire play, his own insecurities lead Macbeth to rash actions to rid himself of his enemies, of which he often regrets. In act one, three witches who in turn contribute to the downfall of his character confront Macbeth. They tell him he will become Thane of Cawdor, Thane of Gladis, and King of Scotland. These prophecies arouse Macbeths curiosity to rise to power. Once the witches give him the prophecy of becoming king, he immediately thinks about how he can accomplish this.
In Act I, he says, If good, why do I yield to that suggestion? Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair? And make my seated heart knock against my ribs. Against the use of nature? (Act I, iii. 14-137). He believes the prophecy to be good news, and cannot think of a reason why he should not be king. We see his aspiring to become king even more in the following quote. Glamis and Thane of Cawdor! The greatest is behind (Act I, iii. 133) As the play progresses, he relies more and more on their prophecies. He shows great faith in the witches words, not once considering that they may be apparitions of evil.
In the following passage, he writes to Lady Macbeth his thoughts. They met me in the day of success; and I / have learned by the perfectest report, they have more in / them than mortal knowledge. (Act I, v. 1-3). He considers their prophecies to be true and in his words, the perfectest. He believes that they have knowledge beyond what any human could possibly know. The influence of Macbeths wife, Lady Macbeth also contributes to his downfall. Lady Macbeth has a strong influence on his decisions and actions.
She feeds Macbeths ambition by suggesting the murder of Duncan in order to acquire the throne. This also spurs Macbeth to commit more murders following his first one. Lady Macbeth encourages Macbeth to carry out the murder of Duncan. She says, Art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour as thou art in desire? Wouldst thou has that which thou esteem’st the ornament of life, and live a coward in thine own esteem? (Act I, vii. 39-41). Thus, she pressures him to commit the act of murder for her own sake and is aware of his ambition to claim the throne.
Even though Macbeth knows what is morally right, his own greed and ambition take control over his conscience. By deciding to murder Duncan, he determines his future. Lady Macbeth takes an active role in planning the murder by helping him follow through with it. She says, his two chamberlains / Will I with wine and wassel so convince,” (Act I, vii. 70-71). Macbeths own ambition is a major factor in contributing to his downfall. Once he becomes king, his ambition takes over, and his actions become increasingly desperate. In the first act, Macbeth himself is aware of his ambition and drive to become king.
He says, I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition which oerleaps itself and falls on thother. (Act I, vii, lines 25-27) The witches’ prophecy concerning Banquo’s descendants and Macbeth’s feeling of inferiority to Banquo lead Macbeth to arrange for the murder of Banquo and his son, Fleance. Banquos presence around Macbeth is a constant reminder to him that it will be Banquos descendants and not his that will inherit the throne. He is aware that he has worked very hard to accomplish what he has, and does not want to lose it to Banquo.
We see this in the following quote, Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown, / And put a barren sceptre in my gripe, / Thence to be wrench’d with an unlineal hand, / No son of mine succeeding. ” (Act III, i. 65-68). He is clearly bitter over the possibility of Banquos descendants, not his, inheriting the throne. We see more of Macbeths rash decisions and ambitious behavior in Act IV when he learns that Macduff fled before he could have him killed. He says, from this moment, the very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand.
Act IV, scene I, 145-147). From that point on he will make his decisions without thinking about the possible dire consequences. His ambition blinds him to that possibility that maybe his actions are producing negative effects. For example, by killing Macduffs family, he brings out revenge and hate in Macduff, ultimately leading to his demise. Macbeths character displays strong signs of being a tragic hero, making him an ideal example. He is not a villain, and is far from a virtuous man. He is easily influenced by outside forces that indirectly control his actions.
Macbeth makes a variety of bad decisions that begin in Act I and end in Act IV. He is inspired to become king by the three witches and their prophecies. His wife, Lady Macbeth manipulates his thoughts and actions while feeding his driving ambition. And finally, Macbeth is the victim of his own rash decisions and actions stemming from his pride and ambition. Macbeths tragic decision stems from his pride and ambition. He makes numerous irreversible decisions that in turn produce his downfall. He constantly relies on the witches prophecies to save him, and in the end realizes that they were false.