Compare 'Macbeth and 'Romeo and Juliet' as tragedies - which do you find more effective?

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Compare ‘Macbeth and ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as tragedies – which do you find more effective?


Admirable qualities

Fate and supernatural

Tragic hero

Tragic flaw combined with a certain set of circumstances

Undeserved suffering


Aristotle suggests in his definition of a tragedy that the downfall and destruction of the protagonist and tragic hero is due to a character flaw combined with a certain set of circumstances which causes them to act a certain way. I will now examine to what extent the two plays comply with his theory.

A tragic hero or heroine should have admirable qualities, which encourages the audience to pity them. Romeo and Juliet are likeable characters in the play, young and caught up in a web of love, which the audience may feel that they can relate to. The story line of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is also very gripping. This is because of the fact that it is love at first sight and the play was made to build up sympathy in the audience, and during the course of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ the love between Romeo and Juliet is a hard situation for the both of them. Already at the start the families of Romeo and Juliet are ancient rivals and enemies, but if that wasn’t hard enough Romeo was banished from Verona. Juliet is unable to visit him because her father, Lord Capulet, is possessive, and she has to ask for leave if she is to exit the Capulet household. In the days in which the play Romeo and Juliet was written by William Shakespeare different views where set on marriage and how people where treated. Her father treats Juliet throughout the play as a possession. Juliet is told exactly whom she is to consider marrying and she isn’t expected to disagree with the choices made. Again this brings about sympathy, but even more sympathy in the modern day because in those days people accepted the ways that people were treated. Also women where expected to have children and be married by the early teenage years which is very different to now. At the beginning of the play Romeo’s attitude to love was almost childish, the lady Roselyn he felt was the woman of his dreams and he had hardly ever spoken to her. In Act I, Scene I, good things are said about Romeo before he is even seen on stage and this makes the audience like Romeo even before he has appeared. Romeo’s attitude to love is often mocked by Mercutio and this rouses sympathy. At the beginning of the play Juliet is immature and less focused on what she is going to do. This changes throughout the play because after she is with Romeo she becomes maturer. An example of this is when she starts to accept what her father is telling her to do and who to marry. Earlier on the play she becomes angry and shows too much emotion in front of her father and disobedience. Because of this Juliet almost gets kicked out of the house. This rouses the sympathy of the audience because they know that deep down inside Juliet’s head she is trying to hide her emotions and feelings in front of her father, which in fact she does very well.

Also the fact that they are willing to die for their love is a great thing, which swings the audience in their favour. I think in my opinion that the audience is very sympathetic with Juliet because she faces all her fears in a desperate hope to see and be with her Romeo again.

Throughout the play Romeo’s reputation for being a peaceful loveable character is good, however Mercutio’s death made him change from someone who bottles up anger to someone who releases it. Therefore he kills Paris and Tybalt. This makes the death count high, but because the audience has so much sympathy for Romeo they tend to forget that he is capable of killing someone. Banishment of course adds an extra twist to the play and both Romeo and Juliet are distraught after it. The audience sympathises immensely with this because they are unable to see each other. The tragedy at the end is brought about by a misplacement of a very important letter from friar Lawrence to Romeo. This letter brings about the fate of the lovers, which of course is death. The audience sympathises greatly because they know that it would have all been all right if the letter had reached Romeo. Macbeth is not really pitied because although at the beginning of the play he is a loyal, honourable soldier and husband, he quickly turns into to a vicious, desperate tyrant, driven by wild ambition. Macbeth is frightened yet intrigued by the witches’ prophecies and wonders whether to act or see if they come true on their own. He is persuaded by his wife to murder the king, but feels anxious, guilty and ready to retreat from this treacherous act. The audience can relate to this much, as it is obvious that Macbeth the promise of power is too great. Macbeth is a complex character who possesses both good and evil traits. This much the audience can relate to. Macbeth’s courage, conscience and moral compunctions loom as large as his evil ambition, cunning and cruelty. While his good qualities bring him to the status he enjoys at the beginning of the play, his “vaulting ambition” readily illuminates his less desirable qualities. Macbeth cannot be called purely heroic or villainous: the complexity of his character arises from the opposing traits he possesses which create a violent inner conflict fuelled by his imagination. It can be said that Macbeth is certainly more villainous than he is heroic, but near the end of the play, he possesses redeeming qualities of guilt, the realisation of the enormity of his deeds and the intense despair that he suffers as a consequence. Macbeth’s inner conflict ruins him: changing him from the “noble” hero he was acclaimed as in the beginning to the “hell hound” and “villain” he is perceived as in his final days. These opposing traits drive Macbeth to despair and ruin, scorned by all and dying finally: bitter, burned out and desperate.

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Fate and the supernatural also play a large part in the two plays, as everyone believed very much in both when they were written. In ‘Macbeth’, the witches torment Macbeth with riddles, they speak his thoughts, and, after showing him that they have the power of prophecy, they make him believe that the greatest prize, kingship, is near. At the start of the play, the witches meet in foul weather, speaking of fog, lightning, thunder and filthy air. This introduces ‘Macbeth’ as a dark, dangerous play, in which the theme of evil is central.  In the opening scene, the witches ...

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