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Pathos. Hubris. Hamartia.
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The character of Macbeth is a classic example of a Shakespearean tragic hero. There are three points which contribute to this. They are the prophecy which was told to him by the witches, how Lady Macbeth influenced and manipulated Macbeth's judgment, and finally Macbeth's long time ambition which drove his desire to be king. Through this, Macbeth’s character degenerates
If we should fail? - Macbeth
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we'll not fail.- Lady Macbeth Act 1 scene 7 59-61
Macbeth's ambition also influenced his declining character.
However, Macbeth's ambition had not been strong enough to carry the motive to kill King Duncan. Lady Macbeth's influence also comes in to play because if not for Lady Macbeth, his ambition would not have been intensified enough to drive him to obtain and maintain his title of King of Scotland no matter what it took, even if it meant murdering. Macbeth's ambition influenced the cause of his new character. This new character of Macbeth contained greed, violence, and power hunger. Macbeth shows this when he kills King Duncan.
I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself,
And falls on th'other. . – Macbeth Act 1 Scene 7 lines 25-28
Through these three events, we can see how he received undeserved misfortune which rooted from the influence of the witches and his wife and to a lesser degree, his own ambitions which led him to believe the words of the witches.
However, Macbeth is different from a typical tragic hero as he really is not a hero, but is instead a tyrant. A tragic hero, as suggested, is a hero with a fatal flaw
that will inevitably bring about his downfall. Macbeth doesn't do a single heroic thing in the entire play. He's only a hero while being described to Duncan in Act I scene II
“For Brave Macbeth, well he deserves that name
” – the captain
Hence, he does not fit the name of a tragic hero.
Macbeth as a Tragic Hero
Tragic Greek dramas featured tragic heroes, good men who suffered incredible losses as a result of an inescapable fate. According to Aristotle, a tragic hero is a character, usually of high birth, who is neither totally good nor totally evil, and whose downfall is brought about by a tragic weakness or error in judgment. A true tragic hero must have six key qualities. Hamartia, hamartia, hubris, anagnorisis, peripeteia, nemesis, and catharsis.
A tragic flaw that causes the downfall of the tragic hero, usually due to hubris.
Macbeth's downfall begins when he succumbs to his overwhelming desire to become King, as well as to proof that he was a man. His downfall begins in Act One Scene 7.
Downfall due to ambition
"Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself
And falls on the other -"
Accedes to Lady Macbeth's persuasion
"I am settled, and bend up
Each corporal agent to this terrible feat.
Away, and mock the time with fairest show.
False face must hide what the false heart doth know."
In Macbeth, his downfall can be said to be caused by Hubris, due to his desire to preserve his pride as a man, and to prove that he is capable of killing Duncan. However it is also ambition which leads to his downfall, which played a greater role in leading to his downfall. It was ambition that planted the idea of murder in his head, which is evident in Act One Scene 3 and Act One Scene 4.
One factor which prevented Macbeth from committing the murder at first was the fear that he would be assassinated too, after he became King, "Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague the inventor".
Act One Scene Three
Are less than horrible imaginings:
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man that function
Is smothered in surmise, and nothing is
But what is not."
Act One Scene Four
The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap,
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires,
Let not light see my black and deep desires;
The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be
Which the eyes fear, when it is done, to see.
The other factor was the fear of the consequences of murder, such as getting caught and losing the "golden opinions from all sorts of people".
It is evident that Macbeth would submit to his ambition even before Lady Macbeth convinced him if he was sure that the murder would not cause him to lose his reputation and the assassination could "trammel up the consequence". Lady Macbeth convinced Macbeth that the murder would go undiscovered, and this was what gave Macbeth the courage and determination to proceed with his plans. Pride played only a fraction of a role in causing Macbeth to murder Duncan, as he already had his own perception of manhood, and his main concern from the beginning when he had the intention of killing Macbeth in Act One Scene Three, was to be undiscovered after murdering Duncan. It is also ambition which led to the murder of Banquo and the attempt to kill Fleance, as Macbeth feared that the prophecy would be fulfilled and Banquo's son would be take his place as King. This eventually brought to his downfall too, as it was the guilt after the murder which led to the others suspecting him of being a tyrant.
Even though the witches and Lady Macbeth certainly play an integral part in Macbeth's downfall, the choice is ultimately his. He could have ignored the witches' prophecy, like Banquo does. He did not have to share his dark desires with his wife, either. But once he is bent on becoming king, Macbeth is willing to kill anyone in his way, even including women, children, and his friends and countrymen. Were it not for this tragic flaw in Macbeth's character, he would have been happy with his position of thane and never sought the throne. In the end, he has no one to blame but himself.
Ambition is the root cause of Macbeth's downfall, as it planted the seeds of murder, which grew into an uncontrollable monster that eventually destroyed anyone who got in its way. It is justified to say that ambition is Macbeth's tragic flaw. Hence Hubris does not cause his downfall in Macbeth, it is ambition.
Recognition or discovery made by the tragic hero. The hero will a learn a lesson, usually as a result of his downfall.
Anagnorisis in Macbeth is his discovery that the witches have manipulated him with equivocations. "And be these juggling fiends no more believed, That palter with us in a double sense;"
Reversal of fortune, the downfall of the tragic hero
The escape of Fleance is the turning point or peripeteia in Macbeth's tragedy. Banquo's dying words, ordering Fleance to "revenge," remind the audience of the Witches' prophecy to Banquo: that he will be father to a line of kings, even though he himself will not attain the throne.
Thus, the audience gains the first inkling of the events later to come that would topple Macbeth from his throne and leave Banquo’s descendants there instead.
A fate that cannot be escaped
The nemesis in Macbeth comes from the
By scene 3, nemesis in Macbeth is starting to become evident. The glorious prospect of kingship has proved illusory, and Macbeth envies Duncan, sleeping peacefully in death, with his reputation intact. Instead of “honour, love, obedience, troops of friends” Macbeth has “curses” and “mouth-honour”, while the queen's death reminds him of the brevity and meaninglessness of life: “...a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury/Signifying nothing”.
While Macbeth is forced to wait for his enemies, they are seen moving inexorably northwards, their numbers growing all the time. It is a popular cause, almost a moral crusade and many “unrough youths” are fighting for the first time. Caithness notes how wild and unrestrained Macbeth's actions are, but Angus passes the most damning judgement. He notes how Macbeth feels his “secret murders sticking to his hands” (echoing Macbeth's words on the night of Duncan's murder, and those of Lady Macbeth more recently). Every minute, says Angus, a new revolt breaks out, and those who serve the tyrant do so only out of fear. A good king (like Duncan) has great moral stature but Macbeth lacks this - so his “royal title” appears as ridiculous as would “...a giant's robe/Upon a dwarfish thief”.
Here, one can see quite clearly the direction that the play is leading towards – the fall of Macbeth.
A feeling of overwhelming pity and/or fear that the audience or reader is left with after witnessing the downfall of a tragic hero.
A catharsis is a sudden release of pent up emotion, a major part of all tragedies. When the main character has his catharsis he comes to realize the truth and real matter of the situation he is in, and is releasing all of the feelings due to this. Macbeth has his catharsis, or soliloquy, after hearing that his wife has just committed suicide. After a guard tells him the news, Macbeth goes into a long speech on how “She should have died hereafter”, or she should have died at a better time. This goes on into a powerful emotional release, with references to death and despair. All Tragic heroes have their catharsis as it is a needed factor of a tragic play, helping to calm the audience, purging the feelings of horror and shock from the audience, allowing the audience to leave the theater without bitterness in their heart, but with the sensation that everything has turned out in the way that it had to.
This is also present in another classic tragic play, Oedipus Rex, where Oedipus exclaims: "Horror of darkness enfolding, madness and stabbing pain and guilt for my evil deeds!”, recognizing that though "It was Apollo that brought [his] ruin to completion[, but] the hand that struck was [still his] own".
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