Macbeth: Aristotelian Tragedy

Kim Blair

Interpretive Test

The definition of tragedy in an excerpt from Aristotle\'s "Poetics" is
the re-creation, complete within itself, of an important moral action. The
relevance of Aristotle\'s Poetics to Shakespeare\'s play Macbeth defines the
making of a dramatic tragedy and presents the general principles of the
construction of this genre.
Aristotle\'s attention throughout most of his Poetics is directed towards
the requirements and expectations of the plot. Plot, \'the soul of tragedy\',
Aristotle says, must, be an imitation of a noble and complete action. In
Macbeth, Shakespear provides a complete action, that is it has what Aristotle
identifies as a beginning, a middle, and an end. These divisible sections must,
and do in the case of Macbeth, meet the criterion of their respective placement.
In an excerpt from Aristotle\'s "Poetics" it states:

"The separate parts into which tragedy is divided are: Prologue,
Episode, Exodus, Choric songs, this last being divided into Parodos and Stasimon.
The prologos is that entire part of a tragedy which precedes the Parodos of the
Chorus. The Episode is that entire part of a tragedy which is between complete
choric songs. The Exodos is that entire part of a tragedy which has no choric
song after it. Of the Choric part the Parodos is the first undivided utterance
of the Chorus." Shakespeare follows this precise arrangement of parts to tell
his story of Macbeth. Macbeth is divided into five acts. It contains a
Prologue, Episode, Exodus, Parodos and Stasimon, but is the only one of
Shakespeares plays that does not include Choric songs. This does not dismiss
Macbeth as a tragedy in the Aristotelian sense, because it still follows
Aristotle\'s fundamental component of a plot. That the arrangement of actions
and episodes arrange themselves into a \'causally connected\', seamless whole.
The ideal arrangement of action into a plot is: Exposition, Inciting Action,
Rising Action, Turning Point(Climax), Falling Action, and Denouement. Macbeth
follows each of these steps while introducing a new question every moment that
keeps our interest. That is called dramatic tension, a very important part of a
tragedy: to keep the audiences attention at all times.

To make Macbeth\'s plot a complete action, according to Aristotle, the
story must contain an activating circumstance, a disclosure, and a reversal of
action. The activating circumstance in Macbeth is the three witches. Macbeth
and Banqou meet three witches that posses supernatural powers and predict the
two men\'s futures. It is part of the wicked sisters\' role in the play to act as
the forces of fate. These hags lead Macbeth on to destroy himself. Their
predictions are temptations of Macbeth\'s. They never tell Macbeth he has to do
anything, and nothing the witches did forced him to commit the murderous acts he
did. But their prophecies stimulated his desire for kingship and intensified
his ambition which is the characteristic that led to his downfall. The
disclosure is the point in the play in which the audience finds out something
they did not know before, that enables them to put the pieces of the tragedy
together. It\'s the point of realization. In Act V scene 1, Lady Macbeth is
found sleep walking muttering the lines of reassurance she gave her husband
after they murder of Duncan and Banqou, "What need we fear who knows it, when
none can call our power to accompt?"(lines 40-42) and "I tell you yet again,
Banqou\'s buried" (lines 66-67). The plot of the tragedy unfolded for the
audience in that scene and it becomes apparent that it was Macbeth\'s and Lady
Macbeth\'s own evil actions that destroyed themselves. The last guideline of an
Aristotelian complete action is the reversal of action. This occurs when
Macduff kills Macbeth. Throughout the play Macbeth, driven by his corrupt
ambition, went after what he desired most. Even subjecting himself to evil sins,
but it is at the very end where his own ambition kills him. Macbeth\'s life ends
in the same way he took the other lives, through murder and deception. Stated
above, Aristotle says, the plot of a Tragedy must be an imitation of a noble and
complete action. Macbeth follows Aristotle\'s expectations of a complete action.
Shakespeare\'s Macbeth also contains a noble and moral action that creates the
foundation of the plot. Whether Shakespeare provides a nobel action, however,
is an issue of the culture of his time. Macbeth was written during the
Elizabethan age where ambition was highly regarded. Ambition was and is a pious
and admirable quality, one of nobility. So essentially the imitation of action,
the plot, of Macbeth is one of a nobel and complete action.

In accordance with Aristotle\'s expectations of a