Macbeth as a Tragic Hero

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Macbeth As a Tragic Hero

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • The Role of Witches’ Prophecies in Proving Macbeth as a Tragic Hero
  • The Influence of Lady Macbeth on Macbeth’s Tragic Heroism
  • Macbeth's Ambition as a Characteristic of a Tragic Hero
  • The Essence of Macbeth as a Tragic Hero
  • Conclusion


A tragic hero is a literary device used in many Shakespearean plays and when reading this play, it becomes evident that Macbeth is a tragic hero. In the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare, Macbeth wants to be king and because of this, he engages in evil deeds that eventually lead to his downfall.

Firstly, the prophecy of the three Witch’s causes Macbeth to want to take over the throne.

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Secondly, Lady Macbeth influences Macbeth which leads him into murdering the king.

Thirdly, Macbeth’s ambition of being king sets him on a path of destruction.

The Role of Witches’ Prophecies in Proving Macbeth as a Tragic Hero

Firstly, the witches’ prophecies contribute greatly when proving that Macbeth is a tragic hero as these prophecies heighten his ambition to become king. This is seen when the second witch says, “All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor” (I. iii. 51). When the witch said this, Macbeth realizes the prophecy are coming true because the King promotes Macbeth to Thane of Cawdor because of his bravery, courage and loyalty. Macbeth’s original title is the Thane of Glamis, but when the witches predict that he will become Thane of Cawdor this is when Macbeth’s ambitions rise. This is a reason for his downfall because he was very loyal to the king at first, but now he wants to kill Duncan, so he can be king of Scotland. Additionally, when the third witch says, “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter”, Macbeth believes that he will become king because two of the three prophecies had already come true (I. iii. 52). This drives his ambition to become king as he kills Duncan instead of waiting to be king like the prophecy said. Because of this, he becomes extremely paranoid as he thinks everyone is trying to overthrow him causing him to keep murdering innocent people. The last example of Macbeth being a tragic hero is when the third witch says that Banquo’s kids will inherit the throne. The witch states, “Thou shalt get kings, though thou be none./ So all hail, Macbeth and Banquo” (I. iii. 68-69). When Macbeth hears this, he is keen to know more about the prophecies as such he commands for the witches to speak, but they just vanish. Later, when Macbeth realizes the prophecies are coming true, he kills Banquo and his son as they are seen as a threat to Macbeth because Banquo knows he murdered Duncan and he was there for the witches' prophecies. As seen, the witches' prophecies contribute greatly when proving that Macbeth is a tragic hero as these prophecies heighten his ambition to become king. The reader is first introduced to Macbeth as being loyal, trustworthy and noble however, the prophecies tempt him to travel down a dark path and commit evil deeds to attain the status of a king.

The Influence of Lady Macbeth on Macbeth’s Tragic Heroism

Secondly, Macbeth is a tragic hero as the influence of Lady Macbeth causes the audience to feel pity for him. As seen, after Lady Macbeth reads the letter written by Macbeth, she realizes that Macbeth’s good nature to not harm anyone will come in the way of him attaining the throne. As such she uses her wit and love to provoke his drive to be king. This is seen when Lady Macbeth says, “I may pour my spirits in thine ear/ And chastise with the valor of my tongue/ All that impedes thee from the golden round,/ Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem/ To have thee crowned withal” (I. v. 15). This shows that Lady Macbeth is willing to persuade Macbeth to do anything he can in order to become king. Additionally, Macbeth was hesitant to kill Duncan because he understood that he was his loyal servant. However, after Lady Macbeth began questioning his manhood and states that he does not have the courage to kill the king, Macbeth decides to prove himself by murdering Duncan. This is seen when Lady Macbeth says, “Come, you spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,/ And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full/ Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood (I. v. 30-33). This quote is of importance, as it shows that Lady Macbeth is the true driving force behind Macbeth’s actions. She is willing to give up her womanhood in order to commit the crime because she is aware of Macbeth’s loyal character. As such, the audience would feel pity for Macbeth because he was loyal and innocent, however since he was persuaded to murdered the king, he would have to live with this guilt and continue on the path of darkness due to Lady Macbeth’s influence. Similarly, Lady Macbeth will do anything to gain power like persuading Macbeth to kill King Duncan. This is seen in the quote, “We fail!/ But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And we'll not fail./ When Duncan is asleep” (I. vii. 60-61). This shows that she is willing to create a ingenious plan to kill King Duncan and blames it on the guards just to ensure that Macbeth has the position of King. Another example of Lady Macbeths influence on Macbeth is when she uses him to gain power. This is seen the quote, “Wouldst thou have that/ Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,/ And live a coward in thine own esteem,/ Letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would” (I. vii. 41-44). In this quote, Lady Macbeth calls Macbeth a coward because he is afraid to act on what he desires, that's why we could call Macbeth a tragic hero. After he commits the murder, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are driven to dark path as Lady Macbeth’s hope of becoming queen takes over. Furthermore, through these events, it becomes evident that Lady Macbeth brings out the evil side of Macbeth as she manipulates him in hopes of advancement and power. After Duncan’s death, Macbeth’s tragic flaw which is ambition grows and he eventually becomes king but continues to kill innocent people on his path to the top.

Macbeth's Ambition as a Characteristic of a Tragic Hero

Lastly, Macbeth is a tragic hero because of his ambition to be the King of Scotland. He is stuck on a path of destruction in order to attain the title of of a king as such, he kills Macduff’s family as they are seen as threats. This is seen in the quote, “Seize upon Fife, give to th' edge o' th' sword/ His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls/ That trace him in his line./ No boasting like a fool” (IV. i. 158-159). Macduff was the first to suspect Macbeth for regicide and due to this, Macbeth has Macduff's family murdered. Macbeth’s ambition has made him treason and betray another nobleman that was loyal to Duncan as he was, in the beginning of the play. Macduff flees from Scotland to England to help the English army to overthrow Macbeth. Additionally, when Macbeth becomes king, he rules as a tyrant, not a king. This is seen when Malcolm says, “This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues, Was once thought honest” (IV. iii. 12). Evidently, Macbeth's only desire was to be crowned king and after he became king, his true, honest, loyal and brave self has fallen into a dark, more ambitious self. furthermore, at the end of play, it is seen that Macbeth is not happy as he was before. Macbeth’s tragic flaw makes him give up everything he had and kill everyone he was close to just to sit in the throne. Although he does gain power as a tyrant, he loses friends and family along the way. This is especially seen when Lady Macbeth dies as Macbeth does not have time to properly mourn her. Macbeth says, “She should have died hereafter. There would have been a time for such a word. Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow” (V. v. 17-19). He feels sadness and regret as he hears the news of his wife’s death but still goes to battle. His ambition has got many people he cared about, killed just so he can become this tyrant he is in the end.

The Essence of Macbeth as a Tragic Hero

Macbeth can be considered a tragic hero in this play, as he meets all the characteristics. Tragic heroes, even though they can be seen as role models, meet with suffering and defeat in the end. This is exactly what Macbeth went through at the end of this dramatic play. However, his ambition to become king can serve as inspiration for many, as he fought for what he believed in (or what the prophecies of the witches said). However, in his journey toward becoming king, he becomes a tyrant, and slowly, he gives up his virtuous and sympathetic traits. A Macbeth tragic hero can serve as an example for chasing desires.


In conclusion, according to Aristotle “A man cannot become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall”, a tragic hero must have some virtues, the character is not villain, have hubris and a tragic flaw. As seen above, Macbeth is a tragic hero because of the prophecy from the three witches, Lady Macbeth’s influence and Macbeth’s ambition. The three witches ignited Macbeth’s horrible ambition which leads him to take more than he already has. Lady Macbeth’s feminist aspect influences him to regicide, so they could be in power. Macbeth’s ambition makes him chase after his desires which leads him to ruin. Since Macbeth fulfills these requirements, he can be called a tragic hero.

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