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If Macbeth Chooses To Do Evil, Can He Be Regarded As A Tragic Hero?

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Q. If Macbeth chooses to do evil, can he be regarded as a tragic hero?

In order to answer this question, this essay will discuss concepts of tragedy and more specifically, Greek and Shakespearean tragedy. Consideration will be given to the nature of human nature, and there will be deliberation on what constitutes a hero as opposed to a tragic hero. We will also investigate the use of the word �if’ in this essay question, and its implications. Our reading of Macbeth depends on our perceptions of whether his actions are the result of free will or determinism. Viewed from such a deterministic stance, Macbeth actually may have had no choice in his actions making him in effect, a hapless victim of fate. Whether he chose his actions or not, Macbeth can still be regarded as a tragic hero.

It appears that tragedy has forever affected our world. We immediately understand the word as referring to an event resulting in great loss or misfortune вЂ" a disaster, a catastrophe. The recent tsunami which occurred in Indonesia was obviously a tragedy as are the devastating effects of hurricane on America’s New Orleans at present. But tragedy does not only occur on a global scale. There is much personal tragedy in our everyday lives. Tragedy can also be defined as a drama in which the protagonist is overcome by some circumstance or some superior force like the gods or fate. Tragedy originated in Ancient Greece in the works of Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides. Greek tragedy was associated with religious civic festival and generally presented very serious themes and treated important conflicts in human nature.

Like Greek tragedy, Shakespearean tragedy follows what happens to a principal character вЂ"a person of great stature or renown, a hero вЂ" and how and why such action occurs. Like all tragedies, there are no happy endings. These tales do not describe the slow decline of the protagonist due to poverty, age or hardship. Instead, we witness some unexpected life-altering occurrence which affects our hero, and which reveals a side of him that we had previously neither seen nor suspected. Shakespearean tragic heroes all possess a fatal flaw which is the catalyst for causing great misery to him and all those around him. The hero falls from his high place of honour and happiness, to a completely opposing position which leaves the viewer shocked and saddened by such tragic events.

A basic character in all literature is the hero. Often they are endowed with great courage and strength, and often celebrated for their bold exploits. They are favoured by the gods and noted for their special achievements. A hero can of course be any person who has accomplished something special or whose actions are seen as an inspiration to others. Modern heroes can be seen in many walks of life вЂ" military, sporting, religious and political to name a few. The 2005 Australian of the Year, Dr. Fiona Wood вЂ" may be viewed as a hero for her many accomplishments not the least of which is her enormous contribution to the world in the field of burns medicine. Another example of hero is Steve Waugh, regarded as one of Australia’s great sporting heroes for his noteworthy achievements in cricket. Such heroes no doubt have flaws вЂ" as does every man or woman ever born, however these do not diminish their status as heroes. Any flaws they may possess do not really enter the picture; we are aware of their good, and only their good attributes. The average hero may have bad table manners or may be selfish when it comes to sharing a box of chocolates. Such flaws may be considered undesirable but are unlikely to lead to a downfall in reputation, to ruin and eventual death. The tragic hero by contrast, while initially recognised for his good traits, is eventually shown to possess one fatal flaw, one trait which will doom him to failure. This fatal flaw will not only contribute to great calamity as the story unfolds, but it will also inevitably lead to the hero’s terrible demise.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is certainly a tragedy. The play is riddled with heart-rending scenes. At the beginning of the tale, we are made aware that Macbeth is a hero. There is frequent reference to his bold and brave deeds, and it is obvious that here is a man among men вЂ" much admired by those around him as an illustrious warrior. In Act I, his Captain declares - “…brave Macbeth вЂ" well he deserves that name” (1.2.16). He is admired not only by his comrades in battle but equally by his king with the words “O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!” (1.2.24). No doubt about it вЂ" Macbeth is a hero. It is not until he encounters the three witches for the first time, that we see a change in our hero; we see evidence of his fatal flaw as it begins to influence actions and outcomes. Once admired for the traits of ambition and courage, soon Macbeth will find that both these qualities contribute to his terrible downward spiral into wickedness and ruin. His insecurities coupled with his soaring ambition are fuelled by the three witches’ predictions. Lady Macbeth fans his flame of ambition by influencing him to cast aside his doubt and indecision, and to use his courage to do murder. What ensues is Macbeth’s transition from hero to the most evil of villains вЂ" a murderer. There is no justification for these murders вЂ" neither accident nor self defence вЂ" this is pre-meditated murder most foul.

It is here that we can question the nature of Macbeth, the man. There is varying philosophical conjecture about man’s natural tendencies. Wolff suggests that Thomas Hobbes “paints a picture of human beings as always searching for something: @@@@@ put in reference here Wolff in readings, p.10) In Macbeth’s case, he sought to be king. Wolff asserts that “Everyone’s natural, continual, attempt to increase power….will lead to competition.” (P.10) Macbeth, as an ambituous competitive man wants to eliminate any obstruction to his becoming king, he wants to ensure that predicted events happen and it is this that motivates him to murder. According to Wolff, Rousseau maintains that self preservation and compassion are the driving forces in natural man and that such attributes are likely to cause problems. Macbeth, having assured himself of becoming king as the witches



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