The Not-so-Tragic Tragedy of Macbeth: Is Macbeth a true tragic hero?

Essay by trueIBGHigh School, 11th grade November 2008

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Amongst all of Shakespeare's tragedies, Macbeth is the most inconsistent and fragmented. Like the mental state of the protagonist, the tragic structure of the play is in disarray from the very onset. According to Aristotle, all tragedies must follow a certain set of characteristics, and the most important of these is the presence of a tragic hero. This tragic hero must possess a tragic flaw, or hamartia, which is a good quality taken to such an extreme that it now exhibits immoral behaviour from the hero. He must also draw sympathy of his plight from the audience. Macbeth, although the protagonist, is not a tragic hero because he does not possess this hamartia. This significant absence of a flaw leads to his actions being without justification, drawing no sympathy from the audience. Because Lady Macbeth's love for Macbeth acts as a tragic flaw by ultimately bringing about her downfall and extracting a great amount of sympathy from the audience, she exhibits attributes more tragically heroic than Macbeth.

Macbeth is the protagonist of Macbeth because the play is inexorably tied to his actions. A protagonist is defined as "the leading character of a literary work". In Shakespearean tragedies, the protagonist must also be from the nobility and possess exceptional character and vitality. One need not look farther than the title to determine Macbeth's importance in the play. While the title does not necessarily provide fair judgement of content, Shakespeare has an uncanny habit of titling his tragedies with the name of the protagonist: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, King Lear, Julius Caesar and Othello are examples. As the play commences, farther evidence of Macbeth's importance is apparent through the witches' subject in the very first scene: "There to meet with Macbeth" (I.i.7). It is for Macbeth that they will gather...