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Shakespeare's Macbeth Is A Tragic Hero

1848 words - 7 pages

Macbeth is a Tragic Hero

In many respects Macbeth, of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth is the least admirable tragic hero of literature. Typical tragic heroes have at least a few admirable character traits. One may, or may not like the hero, but there is something in their characters or their situation on which one can hang some sympathy, even if there is not enough for us to rationalize away their actions. But Macbeth is a mass murderer, who does away with friends, colleagues, women and children, often for no apparent reason other than his own desires. Why should Macbeth be considered a tragic hero?

            The answer, has to do with the quality of his mind, his horrible determination to see the entire evil business through. Having, with the murder of Duncan, taken charge of the events which shape his life, he is not now going to relinquish the responsibility for securing his desires. The most remarkable quality of the man in this process is the clear-eyed awareness of what is happening to him personally. He is suffering horribly throughout, but he will not crack or seek any other remedy than what he alone can deliver. If that means damning himself even further, then so be it.

            This stance certainly does not make Macbeth likable or (from our perspective) in many respects admirable. But it does confer a heroic quality upon his tragic course of action. He simply will not compromise with the world, and he will pay whatever price that decision exacts from him, even though as his murderous career continues he becomes increasingly aware of what it is costing him.

            It seems clear that what his murder has cost him is the very thing that made him great in the first place. For no sooner has he become king than he becomes overwhelmed with fear, nameless psychological terrors which will not leave him alone. We know that Macbeth has had enormous courage before, but there's a powerful irony manifesting itself in the fact that his evil has made him terrified of his inner self. He stands up to that fear and that terror--in fact throughout most of the second half of the play Macbeth is obsessed with removing his inner torment. His later murders are motivated by that far more than by any political considerations or any desire for physical security. The fascination we have with his character stems, I think, from his increasingly futile attempts to resolve the inner pain which he has brought upon himself (and his accurate diagnosis of what is going on inside him). Those attempts lead finally to his self-destruction.

            This quality sets him clearly apart from his wife. She has thought that a little water and a few lies will clear them of the murder of Duncan, but she cannot evade the psychological consequences of what she has encouraged Macbeth to do. She lacks his will power, his determination to continue, his ability to withstand the inner torment. And so as he becomes more and more determined...

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