Tragedy always involves human suffering, but not everyone who suffers is a Tragic Hero. In many of Shakespeare’s plays, the protagonist’s character embodies those characteristics of a Tragic Hero. Due to their flaws, a Tragic Hero’s actions are often heinous and cause great internal conflict.
In William Shakespeare’s Mactbeth, there are many factors that contribute to the decline of Macbeth, such as the witches’ prophecies and Lady Macbeth, turning him from a noble man to a self conceited and violent individual. Because of Macbeth’s tragic flaws, he falls from prominence, eventually leading to self ruin.Macbeth is a tragic hero because of his beginnings as a nobleman and gradually being ruined by his own superstition, pride, and ambition, developing the play Macbeth into a tragedy. Macbeth’s ambitious desires for royalty, fame, and greatness play a key role in the development of his character. Ambition can be defined as the desire and willingness to strive towards achievement or distinction.
On the contrary, driving ambition is the outright desire to achieve a certain goal, regardless of any possible consequences. Ambition has an immediate effect on Macbeth right from the start of the play.The captain tells the king that Macbeth “with his brandished steel,/ Which smoked with bloody execution,/ Like valor’s minion carved out his passage/ Till he faced the slave” (Shakespeare 1. 2.
17-20). Macbeth’s valor and courage as a nobleman on the battlefield is marked by a consuming ambition to achieve greatness. At the beginning of Act one, Macbeth has no incentive or expectation to be promoted to Thane or receive any type of reward. However, after interacting with the three witches, he is shocked about their prophecies, especially when the third witch says “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter! (1. 2. 51). After he is informed of being promoted to Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth is driven by ambition to fulfill the supernatural prophecy of the witches because of his desire for power.
Not only do the witches make predictions for Macbeth, but Macbeth also foretells of his own fate whenever he says, “I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself And falls on th’ other” (1. 7. 25-28). He, himself, previsions that the cause of his downfall comes from the effect of his underlying ambition and yet still acts upon his ambition.
Macbeth makes it clear that he does not care about the cost of the deed, only of the final result that is achieved. Macbeth’s ego and pride overshadow his moral conduct therefore distorting his conscience. Lady Macbeth corrupts Macbeth because of her desire for ruthlessness and the way in which she manipulates his decisions with her feminine persona. After Lady Macbeth is made aware of her husband’s promotion and the witches’ prophecy, she is driving force in the plot to kill Duncan. She worries though that Macbeth “is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way” (1.
5. 17-18).Although Macbeth is initially set on killing the king in his soliloquy, he has second thoughts about it when he realizes that “this even-handed justice Commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice To our own lips” (1. 7. 10-12). He realizes that there will be consequences for his actions if he chooses to yield to his ambitious desires for power.
His conscience and ethical standards stop him for a moment from committing the grave sin of murdering his righteous leader. This however, does not pass over well with Lady Macbeth; whenever she says “when you durst do it, then you were a man” (1. 7. 9), she attacks his ego and backs him into a corner. Lady manipulates his sense of moral conduct by assailing on Macbeth’s manhood and capacity for love. Macbeth, a strong valiant hero in the beginning, degenerates into a corrupt and self absorbed tyrant in search for power partly because of his pride. Macbeth’s powerful imagination makes him victim to superstition brought on by the witches’ influence and Banquo’s presence. These superstitions made him so easily assured in the promises of the apparitions, which made him cling to his belief in these prophecies when circumstances became difficult.
His belief in superstition was so great that when he was left to roam uncontrolled his “function Is smother’d in surmise” (1. 3. 144). This was seen when Macbeth saw the imaginary dagger and Banquo’s ghost. His ensuing worriment from superstition put him in the great danger of exposing himself, Lady Macbeth, and their crimes completely. After the death of Duncan, Macbeth is so accustomed to violence and fear that he does not hesitate to kill Banquo, Fleance, and Macduff’s family. “The very firstling of my heart shall be/ The very firstling of my hand” (4.
1. 147-148).Macbeth exerts his power as the king to suppress any superstitions he has, without even considering the consequences of his actions. This could be seen when he was in a savage frenzy whenever he planned the deaths of Banquo and Macduff’s family. His enemies said, “Who then shall blame/ His pester’d senses to recoil and start,/ When all that is within him does condemn/ Itself for being there? ” (5. 2. 23-25). There were chances following Duncan’s death where he could have turned himself in.
However, because of his superstitions about the future, he did not fear any, or at least think, of the repercussions for his crimes.This ultimately leads to the continuous moral degradation of Macbeth and his wife. Because of Macbeth’s tragic flaws of ambition, pride, and superstition, he falls from prominence, eventually leading to self ruin. He is represented as a good man who, through his major character flaws, falls from grace.
After struggling with his conscience over the evil deeds he had committed throughout the play, Macbeth is killed and the rightful heir to the throne is restored to power. Since Macbeth’s reversal of fortune is caused by his flaws, he is seen as a tragic hero, making Shakespeare’s Macbeth a tragedy.