Defined by Aristotle, a tragic hero is one who falls from grace into a state of extreme unhappiness. The protagonist Macbeth of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is in all ways the perfect example of a tragic hero. He is a person of importance in society; at first an intrepid nationalist, fighting for his country and ultimately, becoming king. Macbeth had character flaws and made a series of serious errors in judgment, one being the assassination of King Duncan. Incidentally, Macbeth had become increasingly miserable throughout the events of the plot. He had outside forces that contributed to his degeneration; the main one being The Weird Sisters. A Shakespearean tragic hero contains all of the afore mentioned qualities including others such as: providing a moral example to the audience, suffering public humiliation, and meeting his doom with courage and dignity which Macbeth did all of. Therefore, Macbeth fits the attributes of a tragic hero.
Macbeth’s increasing importance became a vital reason as to why he became a tragic hero. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth, a Scottish general, is portrayed as an intrepid man whose performance in Scotland’s battle is greatly celebrated. The Captain describes Macbeth’s performance as “Cannons overcharged with double cracks, so they doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe” (1.2.41-42). With such positive feedback from the battle, King Duncan can not help but be elated towards Macbeth. Duncan’s response to the valiant news was to give Macbeth a title which upgrades him from his then-current position; Thane of Glamis to Thane of Cawdor. “No more that Thane of Cawdor shall deceive our bosom interest. Go, pronounce his present death, and with his former title greet Macbeth” (1.2.73-76); “What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won” (1.2.78).
Macbeth had shown major character flaws, weakness and terribly serious errors in judgment throughout the course of the play. With all the acclaim he received on his success in battle and his upgrade to Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth’s ambition to become king couldn’t not help but rise. Macbeth won a battle and proved loyal to Duncan, however his ambition to become King was too strong to keep his morals. When his ambition and the witches’ prophecies were combined, his morals became nonexistent since he is easily persuaded into what he wants to hear. Macbeth’s ambition takes over for a moment when the thought of killing Duncan comes to mind, however morality takes over. “Why do I yield to that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs against the use of nature?” (1.3.147-150). Macbeth questions why he feels himself succumbing to temptation, especially one that makes his heart race. However, he tries to talk himself into believing that the tempting murder couldn’t possibly be as frightening as he now feels it is when he says, “Present fears are less than
horrible imaginings” (1.3.150-151) Basically, his only fear is fear itself. Macbeth is described as a brave man, but his wife manipulates him by accusing him of being a coward, which drives him to prove her wrong. Macbeth’s moral decision is overlooked by his ambition completely when he hears of Malcolm’s succession to the throne. Wanting to become king and believing the witches, he will not allow anything to get in the way of his future. His decision to kill King Duncan snowballed into a sea of other troubles; it is what brought Macbeth to his tragic end.
Antagonists, The Weird Sisters played a voluminous role in Macbeth’s declining character.
“FIRST WITCH: All hail Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!
SECOND WITCH: All hail Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!
THIRD WITCH: All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” (1.3.51-53)
It seems as though the witches did not have much of an effect on anyone besides Macbeth. The sisters had him completely bewitched; he found them immensely mystifying. If it had not been for the witches telling him this, Macbeth would go on living his life day to day lacking any excitement. As a result of the prophecies, Macbeth began to grow curious of how he could be
King of Scotland. With each word spoken from the witches, the importance Macbeth holds for Scotland increases. From Thane of Glamis, to Thane of Cawdor and eventually the all and mighty king.
In Act 4, scene 1, Macbeth sees The Weird Sisters again who conjured up three apparitions for him. The first apparition (appearing in 4.1.77) appeared as an armed head and had told Macbeth to “Beware Macduff!” (4.1.81). Macbeth’s reaction was thank you. However, I already knew to do that. The second apparition (appearing in 4.1.88) appeared as a bloody child which told Macbeth that no man born of a woman could ever harm him. Now Macbeth thought, well then why must I fear Macduff? Everyone is born of a woman. The third apparition (appearing in 4.1.98) appeared as crowned child with a tree in his hand which informed Macbeth to relax and forget his troubles because “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.” (4.1.105-107). Macbeth voted that off as a possibility for it sounded completely ridiculous for a forest to move itself. However, what Macbeth lacked knowledge of was that Macduff was actually not born of his mother. Doctors had to slice her open to remove the baby. The witches had tricked him and the result of their prophecy was that Macbeth was confident none of these would ever happen so he failed to take necessary precautions to protect his well-being.
Evidently, Macbeth personifies the attributes of a tragic hero in many ways. He became increasingly important to society and wanted to be the most powerful ruler. Outside forces had encouraged him to do so which led to making serious errors in judgment. That had led to an ocean of troubles from which there was no solution to and from that came his inevitable doom.
So there should be no skepticism about it, Macbeth is indeed a tragic hero.