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Macbeth- Tyrant or tragic hero? Discuss

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Introduction

Macbeth- Tyrant or tragic hero? Discuss Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's best-known tragedies, but it has been considered so unlucky that some actors will only refer to it as 'The Scottish Play'. They believe that saying the actual name will bring bad luck. The play tells the story of a respectable military leader, Macbeth, and his rapid downfall towards the end of the play. It follows the traditional layout of a tragedy, with a hero who has a fatal flaw that, in the end, leads to his downfall. But there have been many debates about whether Macbeth's character actually is a hero, or if his true side is that of a villain. Driven by his desire to bring forward destiny, Macbeth decides to take the matter into his own hands. Encouraged by his wife, Lady Macbeth, he goes about killing King Duncan and taking the throne for himself. However, that was just the beginning of his tyrannical reign. After more prophecies by the witches he ends up killing others in order to keep his kingdom to himself. Following the usual pattern of Shakespeare's tragic plays, the first qualities that account for the heroic side of Macbeth are that he is a 'noble man' who enjoys his status and prosperity in society. Macbeth is very well respected at the start of the play, as he is 'cousin' to King Duncan and is also a General of the King's Army. He is extremely good at his job and shows a natural flair for physical courage. This is shown when, at the start of the play, Macbeth leads the Scots to victory in a battle against the Norwegians. An injured captain explains in Act I Scene II how Macbeth and Banquo ploughed on in battle, despite the Norwegians beginning 'a fresh assault'. He also compliments Macbeth and declares, 'for brave Macbeth - well he deserves that name'. ...read more.

Middle

It was not brought on by the Witches' prophecies. Macbeth has secret ambitions and lies to Banquo, in Act I Scene III, that his '...dull brain was wrought with things forgotten.' Instead he is really thinking of the implications of the Witches' prediction. The fact that Macbeth may have contemplated killing Duncan before makes him a villain and a false character right from the start of the play. But the audience can sympathise with Macbeth because he is told something that he might have always wished for, and finds it hard to let go of the Witches' prediction. There are things that we would all like, and others might go further to get them than others. Maybe Macbeth's character symbolises how we can all fall into temptation, and how difficult it is to get out once we have already been drawn in. Everyone has a weakness and it is just unlucky for Macbeth that his weakness is taken advantage of, but this shows his heroic quality. Another attribute of the Shakespearean tragic hero is that he is faced with dilemmas and difficult choices. Often he makes the wrong choice and this sets a series of events that make his fall from grace and death inevitable. In the case of Macbeth, he has the choice to kill or not to kill King Duncan. He chooses to kill, and this sets the scene for a number of bad things to come. There is great dramatic irony in Act I Scene IV where Duncan is oblivious to Macbeth's plans. He ruminates that it is hard to see 'the mind's construction in the face', and states that the former Thane of Cawdor 'was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust'. Little does he know that the new Thane of Cawdor is not to be trusted either? How can Macbeth even consider killing such a genuine and honourable man? ...read more.

Conclusion

Macbeth is a play that represents one of the most extreme tragedies that Shakespeare ever wrote. The hero of Macbeth is shown through with his well-respected character and valour at the start of the play. His weakness is his 'vaulting ambition' and this diminishes him to a 'dead butcher' by the end of the play. But the Witches and Lady Macbeth play upon this weakness, making Macbeth's downfall inevitable. But some people argue that there is also a side of tyranny to Macbeth's character. This is considering the number of lives that have been lost at his hand, and the feeble reasons given for carrying out the murders. Macbeth also devises the majority of these murders on his own, so no blame can be given to any other character. However, considering all the evidence given above, I would argue that Macbeth is indeed a tragic hero. Despite all his faults, it is always evident throughout the play that Macbeth suffers from extreme turmoil over his actions. He once confides in Lady Macbeth that his mind is 'full of scorpions', in Act III Scene II. He even appeals for the Doctor to help him in Act V Scene III and 'raze out the written troubles of the brain'. The blunt reply he receives here is that '...the patients must minister to himself'. Macbeth learns that he is truly alone but has lost all feeling to put right his ways. He is also tricked by the equivocations of the Witches and the dominance of Lady Macbeth. I also think it is symbolic that Macbeth does not take his own life, like Lady Macbeth. They are both in the same helpless state towards the end of the play, but it is only Macbeth who deals with this. He does not resort to suicide, like his wife who once sought to be filled '...from the crown to the toe top full of direst cruelty', but strives on heroically against all odds. These are the reasons why I think that Macbeth is really a tragic hero and not a tyrant. By Megan Towner Word Count: 3,919 ...read more.

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