The focal point of the paper is to trace the instances of Macbeth’s character as a tragic hero. This would also include the appearance of the witches when he was pure and loyal and gradually descend to the point of near insanity when he found himself nearing the ultimate stage of becoming evil himself. It could well be mentioned in this context that concept of a hero and a tragic hero is rather a perspective of the reader. However, it can be stated that a character is defined as a hero when he appears to be a central character of the story. This same person is labeled as a tragic hero if the readers find him indulging in acts that are not moral or legal. Macbeth fits this criterion of a tragic hero perfectly. (Tyerman, 233-35)
The text reveals in the opening phase of the drama that Macbeth is an extremely capable warrior in accordance to the account of the captain, thus making him an important aspect of the drama. It is here through the captain’s point we come to know that Macbeth is one of the most loyal subjects of King Duncan. Next we see that Macbeth is interacting with three witches who helps us understand the three major attributes of Macbeth i.e. self-doubt, ambition and physical bravery. At the same time it beyond doubt in the basement Macbeth’s character is clean and as a solder he is true to his job and his king. (Powell, 49-50)
However, at the end of this scene we see the ignition of evil in the form of ambition but in an understated phase. This was a state where he was fighting for his king and now when victory was achieved he wanted the better part of it for himself. Things started changing at a faster phase and Macbeth found himself submerging into the various aspects of evil. First he, with the instigation of Lady Macbeth, he killed King Duncan then it was the turn of Banquo. Banquo was a friend but he was eliminated in the process of keeping Macbeth’s throne safe. He did not stop to this and eliminated the family too. By the end of the play, at his death, Macbeth was completely a tragic hero as a character. (Powell, 51-53)
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The transition of Macbeth from being a heroic character to a tragic hero came in various phases and aspects of circumstances and political developments. It was not a justification from Macbeth’s point in the act of killing King Duncan. The only justification of Macbeth was his ambition. He was not pleased with his possession of Glamis and Cawdor, he wanted more. He wanted to be the king himself. It is true that he was instigated by the witches. The witches stated “All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee. Thane of Glamis! / All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee. Thane of Cawdor! / All hail, Macbeth! That shalt be king thereafter!” (Shakespeare, I.3)
This lead to the assassination of Duncan with ample moral and physical support from Lady Macbeth and all this time Macbeth tries to be brave and just to himself but deep inside his morality is broken although Lady Macbeth tried her heart out to justify each evil acts of Macbeth. Macbeth knows that he is on the wrong side. For Macbeth, as he mentions time and again, Duncan is more than a king to Macbeth and is like a father to him. Thus with this act of treachery and treason he was, at a sphere, murder his father. This was a huge leap towards becoming a tragic hero as well as a negative character. (Tyerman, 235-37)
Banquo too fought beside him with almost equal success and that created doubts in Macbeth’s mind as Banquo was about to become an important foe in the line of his ambition. This too was prophesied by the witches stating that the decedents of Banquo would reign as ruler. Thus it became more obvious that Banquo should be killed. However, he himself knows very well that whatever he is doing is unethical and unjustified and he becomes more aligned with the witches where the inner self represented as the witches are depicted as ridiculous and bizarre and obviously unholy with their actions like “Double, double, toil and trouble, / Fire burn and cauldron bubble” (Shakespeare, IV.i.10–11) and “eye of newt and toe of frog”. (Shakespeare, IV.i.14).
At this part Macbeth becomes an extension of evil spirit such as the witches themselves. At this point whatever Macbeth acts or represents becomes a manifestation of ill fate and unholy intensions. He orders assassinations and tries to kills any and every heir to the throne like a true negative character and this plays an impact over his mind. One major part of this follow through was Macbeth’s misapprehension of blood. (Prawer, 224-5) He saw blood everywhere and it appeared to him that this blood was of Duncan’s and that it could not be rinsed away. “I am in blood / Stepped in so far, that, should I wade no more, / Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (Shakespeare, III. 4. 135–137).
It would be relevant to mention that the playwright William Shakespeare depicted the character of Macbeth as a metaphor of human ambition gone wrong. This makes a character that starts as a brave and powerful warrior who is completely loyal to his abilities and more so to his king. He is well loved by his men and friends and the King himself and there is no reason to accept him as a positive hero but gradually we find him rolling into the abyss of evil procedures and ultimately becomes a tragic hero as a character.
The arrival of the three witches also signifies the contributing factor as an instrument. This part of the text appears to us as a superficial metaphor but this is apparently no illusion as per the drama. This is because there was another person who witnessed the witches and he is Banquo. Therefore, it could be ascertained that the characters of the three witches are in reality not illusions but a simple dramatic manifestation of the underlying sense of ambition of a courageous warrior who has tasted success few moments ago for his King, Duncan.
This was a state where he was fighting for his king and now when victory was achieved he wanted the better part of it for himself. It is but human to ask more and it is human to be prone towards errors. But these are not qualities of a hero. Thus Macbeth is more tragic hero than a hero. (Prawer, 221-2)
In this context it would be relevant to mention that the trace the instances of Macbeth’s `visions’ also contributes to the fact that Macbeth was becoming a tragic hero as a character. His visions were so powerful because his desires were authoritative, commanding and extremely influential. Macbeth’s visions in the end appears to be born out of the conflict of morality and ambition and thus could be well be narrated as a manifestation of the argument of the inner self.
These visions are therefore both illusions and imprint of the psychological analysis at the same time. But the overall aspect of these illusions is negative as they are all inclined towards evil visions of death, blood and fear. A character that experiences these visions makes the character negative with a malevolence vibe. Such a person is never a hero. But as he is the central character of the drama it would be logical to address him as a tragic hero. (Prawer, 223-4)
In the later stages we see that illusions in the true sense of a psychologist appear in the scene with Macbeth visualizing the appearance of Banquo’s ghost. This is nothing superficial but the inner fear of an otherwise physically brave individual. Macbeth tries to be brave and just to himself but deep inside his morality is broken although Lady Macbeth tried her heart out to justify each evil acts of Macbeth. Macbeth knows that he is on the wrong side and the fear of remaining in the wrong side ultimately was manifested as the ghost of Banquo. Macbeth’s subconscious morality projected the act of murder as a ghost. It is a true illusion but of the psychological context.
Psychology plays a deep impact on Macbeth all the text and another superficial aspect of Macbeth’s inner fears were revealed when he visualized Banquo’s dead body looking at him and he is tremendously terrified that Banquo might still be alive. This one vision or illusion appears as a striking note to Macbeth’s morality and thus expose the inner contradiction of Macbeth’s ambition, morality, justification and self doubt. (Gervers, 17-22)
In conclusion it can be stated that Macbeth is a villain in many senses but a lovable villain without doubt and this contributes this character to become one of the crafted tragic hero of literature.
Shakespeare, W; Complete Works of Shakespeare; (National Book Trust 1982)
Prawer, H A; Kings and Kingdoms: Analysis of Royalty in Shakespearean Plays (Allied Publishers 1998) pp 221-5
Powell, M; Anatomy of a Character: Macbeth (ABP Ltd 2001) pp 49-53
Gervers, V; Power Mechanism in Literature (HBT Publishers Pvt. Ltd. 2000) pp 17-22
Tyerman, J; Invention of the Tragic King (Allied Publications 2001) pp 233-37
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