THE TRAGEDY THAT IS MACBETH
Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” explores a fundamental struggle of the human conscience. The reader is transported into the journey of a man who recognizes and acknowledges evil but still succumbs to its destructive powers. The character of Macbeth is shrouded in ambiguity that scholars have claimed as both being a tyrant and tragic hero. Macbeth’s inner turmoil and anxieties that burden him throughout the entire play evoke sympathy and pity in the reader. Though he has the characteristics of an irredeemable tyrant, Macbeth realizes his mistakes and knows there is no redemption for his sins. And that is indeed tragic.
A tragic hero is a nobleman who comes to a tragic end as a result of a deliberate choice – not as a result of fate or coincidence (Mrs. Horne). Macbeth is introduced in the play as a brilliant general. Wayne Booth comments that in order for the audience to recognize Macbeth’s fall, he had to be ‘a man worthy of our admiration’ (25). Thus, Macbeth’s loyalty and bravery is emphasized to magnify his tragic end. Lady Macbeth remarks that her husband is “too full o’ the milk of human kindness” (1.5.16) while Duncan is eternally grateful to the “noble Macbeth” (1.2.77). Macbeth is bestowed the Thaneship of Cawdor for his valour in battle. This stirs his dormant ambition or fatal flaw into question. The use of the ‘aside’ in Shakespearean plays ‘indicate a state of intense mental preoccupation’ (Mehl 111) in the character, as well as providing the genuine truth to the audience. In Macbeth’s aside in Act 1, scene 3, this technique is used to induce sympathy in the reader or spectators. We realize that Macbeth is tempted to kill Duncan, but is also horrified at the idea, “why do I yield to that suggestion,/ Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair” (1.3.144-145). These conflicting emotions sow the seeds for the tragedy to come. It is both his ambition and ‘irrepressible imagination” (Mehl 111) that compels Macbeth to murder.
During Macbeth’s soliloquy at the beginning of Act 1, scene 7, the reader or audience receives a full understanding of his inner turmoil, which also highlights the ‘moral values involved’ in the murder that ‘an evil man would not be’ aware of (Booth 26). Macbeth’s loyalty to Duncan overpowers his “vaulting ambition” (1.7.27). It is a great victory when Macbeth states confidently to Lady Macbeth, “We will proceed no further in this business” (1.7.33). Thus, Macbeth’s integrity shines through and points to his inherent goodness.
The dagger that stands before Macbeth prior to the murder is a symbol of the butchery and violence that has yet to come. His speech that is spoken during this hallucination does not serve to diminish the brutality of this crime – regicide – but rather pulls at the audiences’ sympathy as Macbeth discusses his terror with ‘such clarity of vision and such intense moral consciousness’ (Mehl 116). With the murder of Duncan, Macbeth has achieved the highest status in society, but...