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Examine/Analyse the character of Macbeth. Is he a tyrant or a tragic hero?

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Shakespeare: Examine/Analyse the character of Macbeth. Is he a tyrant or a tragic hero? It should include: * The use of language, structure and presentation * The play's moral and philosophical context * The play's social and historical setting Before discussing the character of Macbeth, it is essential that the above question is fully understood. Is Macbeth a tyrant or a tragic hero? The dictionary defines both of these terms as such: * Tyrant - an oppressive or cruel ruler, or one who forces his will on others cruelly and arbitrarily * Tragic Hero - a person who evokes both our sympathy and terror, or one who has suffered, struggled, and then ultimately realises that everything was his own fault. It is obvious to the reader that Macbeth does not specifically fit into either category, as his character contains aspects of both traits. Although he is mainly tyrannical, many subtle hints of a tragic hero can be found in him - such as when he loses the support of those once close to him, due to his arbitrary acts of malicious brutality. Most will believe that he deserves this punishment, but Shakespeare has made Macbeth na�ve to the loss of support, which makes the reader more sympathetic towards his character. However, this feeling quickly diminishes as Macbeth continues his flagitious search for a feeling of security, which he does, in fact, never find. To be able to completely comprehend the character of Macbeth, and, therefore, be able to give a better analysis of him, the historical setting of the play must also be considered, as this will give an insight as to why the play was written, and what purpose Macbeth's character serves. Shakespeare's 'Macbeth' was loosely based upon historical facts, with the addition of the supernatural theme for the benefit of James I of England/James VI of Scotland, who was the King at the time that the play was written. ...read more.


How easy it is then!" Macbeth is in shock from killing Duncan, and would rather be lost in thought than face the reality of his actions. He was unstable even before killing Duncan, as he had hallucinations: "Is this a dagger which I see before me" "Come let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still." The reader is unsure as to whether they should feel sympathy for him, as it is obvious that he has a conscience, and does not wish to do the deed. The conflicting influences upon him, are confusing him greatly, but as Lady Macbeth is the strongest one, she has the main power over his actions. However, in the following scene, he gains strength - in a negative way. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth act shocked when the news of Duncan's death is announced. Lady Macbeth pretends to faint, and Macbeth kills the guards out of his supposed 'love' for Duncan. The charade that they put on is quite convincing, and shows how Macbeth is gaining in strength and confidence. This contrast with the previous scene shows Macbeth's more tyrannical side. Once the reader realises how Macbeth must have had enough strength to actually kill Duncan, and then takes into account how little remorse he shows now, they begin to see his development from a noble and trustworthy subject of the King, to an immoral and unethical despot. His next act of tyranny involves the murder of his good friend Banquo. Banquo has become suspicious of Macbeth: "Thou hast it now, King, Cawdor, Glamis, all, As the weird women promised, and I fear Thou play'dst most foully for't" Although Macbeth and Lady Macbeth had successfully blamed the guards for the murder of Duncan, Malcolm and Donalbain fled the country, for fear of being blamed. By doing this, they automatically accused themselves, and as no-one was left to rule the country, the sovereignty fell upon Macbeth. ...read more.


As Macduff was delivered by a Caesarean section, he cannot, therefore, be said to have been born. Macbeth could not have anticipated this response, and he is crushed by this - he refuses to fight on as he knows that to do so would be futile. However, Macduff will not accept this, and enrages Macbeth, forcing him to fight: "I will not yield, To kiss the ground before young Malcolm's feet, And to be baited with the rabble's curse. Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane, And thou opposed, being of no woman born, Yet I will try the last." Macbeth is then slain. The country reverts back to its original harmonious state, with Malcolm now returned to his rightful place on the throne. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are referred to as the "dead butcher, and his fiend-like queen" but the unseen damage that these two Machiavellian characters have caused, cannot be as easily undone as they can be assailed. After his death, did Macbeth change the opinion of the reader? Did they suddenly feel deep sympathy for this man, because he thought that he was invincible, and was, in fact, not? Highly doubtful. So then, Macbeth - tyrant or tragic hero? His tyrannical side has been the more prominent throughout the play, with the tragic hero in him being more subtle. Although neither description is a suitable definition of his whole character, the barbaric deeds that he executed outrank his heroic traits, and those moments in the play where he evokes the sympathy of the reader. It is ironic that the ambition which he held at the beginning of the play - the ambition that led him to be King, should be the main catalyst in his downfall. This may contribute to the tragic hero side of him, and although to some he may appear to have an equal mixture of the two traits, he is, in essence, a tyrant. Rachel Reid ...read more.

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