Since the time of the Ancient Greeks, Aristotle’s model of the Tragic Hero has been adapted to remind people of the imperfection of humans. The Tragic Hero is originally portrayed as a noble and god-like person. However, through his own actions and imperfections, the Tragic Hero falls from his once noble stature. In Shakespeare’s Scottish tragedy, Macbeth, the audience witnesses the central character’s great suffering caused by his own doing, as Macbeth, once a brave, loyal hero in Scotland, falls prey to his own greed and ambition thus causing his own fall from grace.
Every tragic hero is originally of noble tature, whether by birthright or through his deeds. Macbeth proves to be noble though his deed, serving his country and his king. Alongside Banquo, Macbeth willingly risks his life to defend his country, as he successfully defends the West Isles and defeats the rebels. This causes King Duncan to proclaim, “O valiant cousin! Worthy gentlemen” (1. 2. 26). This confirms that Duncan highly respects Macbeth, believing him to be heroic and noble.
Simultaneously, King Duncan discovers that the Thane of Cawdor has been a traitor and decides to give Macbeth the title: “What he [Cawdor] hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won” (1. . 76). As a result, Macbeth’s noble status and power increases. Unbeknownst to Macbeth, he is now both the Thane of Glamis though his birthright, and the Thane of Cawdor due to his deeds. Although Macbeth is noble and heroic, he is still a human. Consequently, this means that he is imperfect, and prone to making mistakes, or errors in judgement, which are caused by the Hero’s tragic flaws.
This stage is know as the Hamartia. Macbeth’s hamartia is his ambition and curiosity, which first appears when he meets the three witches. They greet him with a prophecy, proclaiming him to be Thane of Cawdor, and later the King of Scotland. His curiosity outweighs him better judgement, causing him to demand them to “Stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more” (1. 3. 72). Despite these witches clearly being instruments of darkness, Macbeth’s ambition and curiosity compels him to seek out more information. This implies that Macbeth does believe, to an extent, what the witches are telling him.
His ambition for more power outweighs both his better judgement and his loyalty to Duncan. Later, after Duncan has given Macbeth the title of Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth says, “Stars hide your fire! Let not ight see my black and deep desires” (1. 4. 58-59). This further reinforces Macbeth’s ambition for power, despite understanding that his ambitions are both traitorous and unnoble. After the Tragic Hero has made errors due to his weakness, he continues to make conscious choices that will eventually cause his downfall.
Macbeth’s first conscious choice is choosing not to take any action to fulfil or stop the prophecy: “If chance will have me King, why chance will crown me without my stir” (1. 3. 166-168). Macbeth’s neutral behaviour toward the witches’ prophecy is not something a noble or loyal Thane would do. This also implies that he is unwilling to dirty his hands for the power and status of King. Macbeth’s faith in the witches becomes solidified when he is made Thane of Cawdor, thus causing him to write a letter to his wife about their prophecy.
Immediately after reading the letter, Lady Macbeth plots to murder Duncan and secure the throne. Although Macbeth chooses to execute her plot, he later changes his mind, wanting to “proceed no further in this business” (1. 7. 33). He feels conflicted about murdering Duncan, as he is still both Duncan’s host and kinsmen: First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, Strong both against the dee. Then, as his host, Who should against his murderer shut the door, Not bear the knife myself. (1. 7. 13-16). His still noble mindset and loyalty to King stops him from killing Duncan, and his resolve starts to waivers.
However, Lady Macbeth quickly persuades him to kill Duncan, calling him a coward and annulling his fears. Macbeth, now convinced, says, “I am settled and bend up each corporal agent unto this terrible feat” (1. 7. 92). This shows that Macbeth is now willing to kill Duncan, and does so-but only after much hesitation and persuasion from his wife. Soon after, the other Thanes arrive, finding Duncan killed in his bed. Macbeth accuses the guards of killing Duncan to cover up the murder he committed, then proceeds to murder them as well: “O, yet I do repent me of my fury that I did kill them” (2. . 115).
He kills them, without any thought or prompting from others, fearing that they will discover his murder. He further descends from his noble status after killing Duncan’s guards as he becomes more willing to dirty his hands to achieve the result he desires. The now coronated Macbeth continues to grow more willing to murder to stay in ower. He quickly grows weary of Banquo, who also knows of the prophecy, thinking “to be thus is nothing but to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo stick deep” (3. 1. 54-55).
Macbeth fears that Banquo will discover that he was the one that killed Duncan, and that one of Banquo’s descendants will usurp him, in accordance to the witches prophecy. Despite being good friends, Macbeth chooses to kill Banquo, simply to secure his position. He has fallen so far from his noble stature that he is willing to hire others to do the deeds for him, telling the murders, That I to myself struck down. And thence it is That I to your assistance do make live, Masking the business from the common eye For sundry weighty reasons (3. 1. 140-143).
However, unlike when he killed Duncan’s guards, Macbeth plans ahead of time to kill Banquo. He is not only willing to kill for power, he becomes willing to manipulate and order others to kill for him. He no longer needs to be persuaded to kill, but rather he is doing the manipulation himself. Up to this point, Macbeth has killed many to either achieve or secure his goals. However Macbeth chooses to kill Macduff’s family without solid ustification, saying, The castle of Macduff I will surprise, Seize upon Fife, give to the edge of the sword His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls That trace him in his line” (4. . 166-169).
He decides to slaughter everyone in Macduff’s castle simply because he has betrayed Macbeth, despite them being innocent. This demonstrates how Macbeth is now willing to kill his countrymen, regardless of his duty as king to protect them. Macbeth, who originally did not want to kill Duncan, becomes someone who slaughters Macduff’s family without reason. In addition, Macbeth’s faith in the witches causes him to seek them ut to gain more information, despite knowing that they are evil and deceiving creatures.
His trust in the witches and their prophecy fills him with a false sense of security, saying, “Let them fly all! Till Birnam Wood remove to Dunsinane, I cannot taint with fear. ” (5. 3. 1-3), when one of his subjects abandons him. Macbeth believes he is invincible because the witches prophesy that no one that is women born can kill him and that he will be king until the Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane.. His choice to not act when his Thanes betray him, choosing kill his ubjects, and his faith in the witches’ prophecy ultimately leads to his downfall and death.
As a result of the Hero’s hamartia and conscious choices, he will eventually fall from grace. This phase of Aristotle’s Tragic Hero is know as the Peripeteia. Due to his evil deeds, Macbeth is no longer seen as a noble or heroic person but rather a “tyrant whose sole name blisters our tongues” (4. 3. 14). Macbeth has fallen in the eyes of his countrymen, and is now someone who is feared and hated rather that loved and revered. His countrymen go as far as comparing him to the Devil, saying, “Angels are right still, though the brightest fell” (4. 3. 25).
Due to his ambition for power and status, Macbeth falls from his noble, god-like stature, and becomes a hellish demon, hated by all. In the place of his once noble stature, many will only remember him as the evil, tyrannical king. The next phase of the Tragic Hero is his experiences of great suffering as a result of his fall from grace and his conscious choices. After Macbeth has killed Duncan, he is plagued with hallucination, believing his hands to be so drenched with blood that if he were to wash them in the ocean, it would cause “The ultitudinous seas [to] incarnadine, making the green one red” (2. 2. 4-75).
The constant fear that he experience, coupled with his guilt and hallucination, almost drives Macbeth mad. Soon after, Macbeth becomes mentally tormented, admitting to his wife, “O full of scorpions is my mind dear wife” (3. 2. 42). In accordance to the witches prediction, Macbeth suffers from lack of sleep, as his guilt torments his mind. His hallucination only becomes more severe after he kills Banquo. In front of all his Thanes, Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost, and shouts, “Thou canst not say I did it. Never shake thy gory locks at me” (3. 4. 61-62), and continues to scream hysterically afterwards.
Not only does Banquo’s ghost now plague Macbeth, he embaresses himself in front of his kinsmen as well, causing him to suffer from a loss of dignity and respect. In addition, due to lack of sleep and his decreasing morals, Macbeth commits atrocious acts on his people. In doing so, Macbeth loses the support and respect of his countrymen. “Now does he feel his title hang loose about him, like a giant’s robe upon a dwarfish thief” (5. 2. 23-25), says Thane Angus, demonstrating that Macbeth’s countrymen no onger see him as their king, but rather an imposter.
Macbeth suffers from a loss in power; he loses his people’s respect, support, and loyalty. His suffering is so torturous that he “[begins] to be awary of the sun and wish the estate of the world were now undone” (5. 5. 54-55). With guilt plaguing his mind and without the love of his people, Macbeth loses his reason to live, wishing for death to come instead. After much suffering and tragedy, the Hero comes to the realization that he was the one that orchestrated his own downfall, this phase is known as the anagnorisis. Macbeth