How is Macbeth a tragic hero?

Essay by briannamark17High School, 11th gradeA+, April 2012

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It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's...Macbeth?

It is hard to imagine Macbeth, a raging, impulsive, mentally volatile terrorist, a hero too. But according to the literary definition, a tragic hero is an admirable figure who has a personal failing that leads to his or her downfall. Macbeth has the three components in this equation: he is an admirable warrior, his tragic flaw is his ambition, and his ambition causes his mental deterioration and death. Though not the popular embodiment of a hero, Macbeth is a tragic hero because he is a noble character whose ambition leads to his downfall.

In the opening of the play, Macbeth is a brave and courageous man. The audience does not see Macbeth in battle, but several characters describe Macbeth's heroic actions. When King Duncan asks the Captain of the Scottish army if the intimidating Norwegian forces frightened Macbeth and Banquo, the Captain explains how instead of hesitating "they doubly redoubled strokes upon the foe" (Shakespeare 5).

Upon hearing this, Duncan exclaims, "O valiant cousin! O worthy gentleman!" (5). Macbeth is an honorable man at the beginning, unarguably worthy of his title Thane of Cawdor. His fellow warriors, even the King, value him as a loyal subject and a leader. However, military success is not solely what makes a man honorable. When Macbeth writes back to Lady Macbeth after he learns of his new title of Thane of Cawdor, Lady Macbeth says that Macbeth is "too full o' th' milk of human kindness" to kill Duncan in order to have the throne (16). Lady Macbeth recognizes that Macbeth is more than just a warrior; he is motivated by his own conscience more than anything else, though ambition will overpower his conscience in his later actions. Macbeth has qualities of not just a...