How Shakespeare Used the Character of Macbeth to Signify a Tragic Hero Due to His Ambition and Power

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 William Shakespeare wrote the dramatic play ‘Macbeth’ in 1606, which was set in Scotland and written after the Gunpowder plot of 1605, a fail assassination attempt against King James. Shakespeare used the character of Macbeth to signify a tragic hero due to his ambition and power, which was a recurring theme throughout the play alongside the subject of gender roles and the supernatural, which also contributed to his downfall. Macbeth was mostly responsible for his own downfall because he was aware of the risks and consequences that would occur and yet chose to ignore them. However, there were different factors that also contributed to his downfall, such as Lady Macbeth questioning his masculinity and the Weird Sisters’ unclear prophecies. In the play’s exposition, Shakespeare presented Macbeth in a positive way to give more emotional impact to his tragic fall and help to add a more significant impact on the audience. In contrast to the beginning of the play where he was portrayed as a positive ‘rebel’ and loyal to the King, at the end of the play, he ends up being killed by Macduff because he killed his family, which was because of the Weird Sisters’ prophecies telling him to ‘beware Macduff’ which is a clear example of how the supernatural played a part in Macbeth’s downfall, especially because in the 1600’s supernatural was part of their beliefs and represented the fear of the unknown and was so important that it even led James I to write a paper called the Daemonologie on the subject.

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The Great Chain of Being was the central belief where everything had its assigned place in the order of importance starting from God, angels and kings down to plants and non-living things. It was an important aspect to the people of the Renaissance and was taken quite seriously so when Macbeth had killed King Duncan in I.IV it had sent the audience into utter shock because it violated the chain and is considered to be the start of his downfall. During that scene, right before when King Duncan was announcing his intention to name Malcom, he described Macbeth as a righteous warrior. This is exemplified when he says, ‘he was a gentleman on whom I built an absolute trust,’ which is a dramatic irony and shows that the King has a high opinion of Macbeth so it would be startling and shocking to the Jacobean audience when Macbeth kills him as it goes entirely goes against the idea of him being a Renaissance man; during that era, men cared deeply about their respect and honor so losing it would mean that it cannot be regained. In that same scene, Macbeth speaks to the audience in the form of an aside, where he says: ‘Stars, hide your fires,’ the use of personification here and the metaphor that he uses when he calls his desires ‘black and deep’ allows for the Jacobean audience to be notified of his dark-like thoughts, which can be used to foreshadow his downfall that is progressed later on in the play. These thoughts are a perfect example of how he is personally responsible for his downfall, as this shows that he is well aware of the fact that this is wrong, and yet he chose to ignore it.

Macbeth’s hamartia in the play was his desire for power and ambition. Motivated by his wife Lady Macbeth, he ended up committing regicide which was the rising action of the plot and the beginning of his downfall, which though he was hesitant on, it was still his decision in the end, meaning that he was able to choose his own fate, but he instead chose to use the Weird Sisters’ prophecies as an excuse and decided to kill the ‘Thane of Cawdor’, which proves that he was responsible for his own death. This is implied in I.VI when he says: ‘If the assassination/Could trammel up the consequence, and catch/With his surcease,’ which proves that he is aware of the consequences but is choosing to ignore them and the audience is then introduced to his internal conflict. This demonstrates the uncertainty he felt before killing King Duncan. However, it can be argued that it wasn’t necessarily just his fault as his ‘dearest love’, also known as Lady Macbeth, pressured him into killing King Duncan. In I.V we are introduced to the relationship between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. In her soliloquy that was presented in the form of a letter, she describes him as ‘too full of the milk of human kindness’ with the symbolism of the word white to suggest his purity which she sees as a weakness and also implies that she thinks that he is too soft to reach the Weird Sisters’ third prophecy of becoming king, which led her to manipulate him and question his manliness in Scene VII where she asked: ‘what beast was’t then that made you break this enterprise to me?/When you durst it, then you were a man,’ which demonstrates that Lady Macbeth doubted Macbeth’s manhood when he was uncertain on whether he should kill Duncan or not. However, she also described him as her ‘dearest partner of greatness’ which has the connotations of ‘partner’ to suggest equality between them which was very unusual; during that era, women were expected to be obedient to their husband. This is a clear explanation as to how Lady Macbeth contributed to his downfall, as she did play a factor in contributing to his downfall. 

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