Macbeth is the epitome of what the literary world regards a “tragic hero”. His admirable qualities are
supplanted with greed and hate when he is duped by the three witches.
Thunder and lightning. Enter three Witches. Yes, it is the first scene from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth,
a tragic tale of one man’s quest for power and his ultimate defeat. The story revolves around our tragic hero,
Macbeth, and how an admirable and noble man, so established in society, can fall so greatly. Throughout
the play, he is driven by an obsession to become King of Scotland, and in the process commits acts of
betrayal and treachery to achieve this goal. However, Macbeth is not the only character involved in this
sordid affair. His wife, the manipulative Lady Macbeth, three prophetic witches and members of the
Scottish aristocracy all play pivotal in the drama. Lady Macbeth, the great woman behind the man, plots,
scheme and propels Macbeth into a nightmare of falsehood and guilt. The wiches, or weird sisters, embody
the supernatural element of this tragedy. With their imperfect predictions and calculated duplicity, they
created chaos in Macbeth’s mind as they toy wit!
h his sense of security. The Scottish aristocracy comprises of King Duncan, the two princes – Malcolm and
Donalbain, and various other thanes and nobles, including Macbeth’s friend Banquo. They serve as barriers
for Macbeth and, regardless of friend or foe, he chooses to either “fall down, or else o’er-leap” these
hurdles. However, one hurdle that proves too great is his nemesis: Macduff. After Macbeth’s false sense of
security is shattered, a mighty swipe of Macduff’s sword releases Macbeth from a tangled web of desire,
design and deceit.
Macbeth has, as his wife says, the milk of human kindness (which was not a cliche when the play
was written), the kind of affection that many people have for others when self-interest is not rampant. He
has a high regard for Duncan and Banquo, defaming the latter only once (III.i.74 ff.). He differs from
Duncan in this regard in that the King’s charity is of a quality that works to transform human society into a
family and that, as G. R. Elliott points out, “makes the spirit of Duncan persist through the play after his
death.” Nevertheless, Macbeth shares in a somewhat limited way in the moral nature of manhood as seen in
I.vii.46-47, as E. M. Waith observes, without wanting to contract himself at the urgings of his wife into a
paragon of energy, energy simply devoted to utterly selfish ends. Macbeth thus differs from Macduff, who
more fully realizes both the valorous and moral nature of manhood, and from Richard III, who is a
melodramatic villain and indeed a scourge of God.
Macbeth, unlike Richard, is not completely hardened even at the end of the play. He exhibits
remorse immediately after the murder of Duncan, and he repeatedly displays anguish after commission of
his atrocities. In proposing the savage murder of Macduff’s family, he speaks of these “unfortunate” souls
(IV.i.152) without attaching irony or sadism to this adjective. The passage “I have lived long enough”
(V.iii.22-28) is not, in its apprehension of the failure of a life, the utterance of a thorough reprobate like
Richard; and “poor heart” (V.iii.28) is analogous to “unfortunate souls.” Macbeth, unlike Richard, is self-
tortured and thus wins of us a degree of sympathy. Macbeth is utterly free from Richard’s savage humor as
seen, for example, in his jesting about sending Clarence to Heaven post-post-haste. Unlike Iago, Macbeth is
unequipped with a philosophy of egoism.
Unlike Lady Macbeth, he does not pray to have his nature altered. He makes no formal compact,
as Faustus does, with the Devil. He never chastises his wife for her failure to bear sons though his ambition
is dynastic rather than personal, and even though, whatever Renaissance medical theory may have taught,
royal practice as observable in the reign of Henry VIII held the wife rather than the husband to blame for
lack of issue. Although there is slight evidence that Macbeth uses Lady Macbeth not to form his murderous
intent toward Duncan but to give him courage and practical insight into the way this piece of regicide may
be committed, he vacillates before the murder of Duncan (I.vii.1ff.), he experiences hallucinations that
precede (II.i.33-35) and follow (II.ii.35-36) this murder; he is unable to answer “amen” to “God bless us”
(II.ii.23 ff.); he feels remorse in II.ii.60 ff.; and his later savagery suggests the utter subversion of his
Macbeth is not sufficiently cultivated in good or evil to muster poise for all occasions: thus he
experiences difficulty in sleeping; he uses rhetoric badly in the presence of others when disturbed (I.iv) and
even resorts to improbability (e.g., I.iii.149-150); he cannot reproduce imperial dignity and the graces of
kingship as Claudius, Hamlet’s stepfather, manages to do. So he must act, and so he stays the onset of
madness, acquiring firmness of purpose in the wrong road. Even his soliloquies, notable for magniloquence
and phantasmagoria and marked by voluptuous word-painting, show more the stages of his corruption than
its causes – the need for action to cover his lack of poise in awaiting developments and the need to stifle the
moral imagination that enables him to foresee the consequences of his actions.
Macbeth’s fall from grace into sheer misery is truly tragic in its nature. Consequently, he was
simply a weak soul that was unfairly hoaxed.