Macbeth: Macbeth - A Tragic Hero


"(Sometimes a tragic hero is created, not through his own villainy),
but rather through some flaw in him, he being one of those who are in high
station and good fortune, like Oedipus and Thyestes and the famous men of such
families as those." (Poetics, Aristotle). Every great tragedy is dominated by
a protagonist who has within himself a tragic flaw, too much or too little of
one of Aristotle\'s twelve virtues. In Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, Macbeth,
a great Scottish general and thane of Glamis, has just won an important battle,
when he is told by three witches that he will become thane of Cawdor and then
king of Scotland. After Macbeth is given Cawdor by King Duncan, he takes the
witches words for truth and conspires against Duncan with his wife. When
Duncan comes to Macbeth\'s castle that night, Macbeth kills him and takes the
crown for himself after Duncan\'s sons flee from Scotland. Then Macbeth reigns
for a while, has several people killed, and is eventually slain by Macduff when
he and Malcolm return leading the armies of England. Often people read the
play and automatically conclude that Macbeth\'s tragic flaw is his ambition;
that he is compelled to commit so many acts of violence by his lust for power.
However, by carefully examining the first act, one can determine the defect in
Macbeth\'s character that creates his ambition; his true tragic flaw. Macbeth\'s
tragic flaw is not his ambition as most people believe, but rather his trust in
the words of the witches and in his wife\'s decisions.
At the beginning of the play Macbeth has no designs on the throne, and
he does not start plotting until his wife comes up with a plan. When first
faced with the witches\' words, Macbeth expresses astonishment and disbelief
rather than welcoming them when he says, "...to be King stands not within the
prospect of belief, no more than to be Cawdor...."(1.3.73-75). When confronted
with the witches\' proclamation that he is to be king, Macbeth responds as a
loyal subject would; not as a man with secret aspirations in his heart. He has
no reason to hide his true feelings at this point so therefore it can be
assumed that Macbeth has not yet truly considered killing the king. Even after
the first of the witches\' predictions comes true, Macbeth does not plot against
the king but instead decides to leave it to chance. "(Aside) If chance will
have me King, why, chance may crown me, Without my stir."(1.3.143-144).
Macbeth has already been granted the title of thane of Cawdor, but still he
acts as though a loyal subject would. His lack of ambition is stressed here by
the fact that the actor is speaking the thoughts of the character rather than
words that the character says aloud. It is Macbeth\'s wife that decides to
convince her husband to kill Duncan after she has learned what has happened,
"Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be what thou art promised. Yet do I
fear thy nature; It is too full o\' the milk of human kindness to catch the
nearest way."(1.5.14-17) Lady Macbeth is saying that her husband is too kind
to kill the king but that he will get what has been promised to him. She goes
on to say that she will bring him around to her way of thinking. So obviously,
Macbeth himself is not excessively ambitious, he has no desire to kill Duncan
until Lady Macbeth plants the thought within his heart.
Macbeth\'s true tragic flaw, the force behind his ambition, is his
gullibility, his willingness to trust the witches and his wife; no matter how
terrible their ideas may be. By the end of the fourth scene Macbeth is already
beginning to acknowledge the witches\' words as truth after Malcolm becomes
Prince of Cumberland, the heir to throne, "(Aside) The Prince of Cumberland!
That is a step on which I must fall down or else o\'erleap, for in my way it
lies."(1.4.48-50) Less than a day has passed, and already Macbeth is beginning
to believe in the words of the witches, Satan\'s representatives on Earth.
Despite centuries of tradition that tells Macbeth that witches are evil, and
therefore lie, he is already thinking that what they say is true. While
talking with his wife about her plans, Macbeth says, "We will proceed no
further in this business..."(1.7.31), and then, less than fifty lines later,
they are working out the details of their nefarious scheme. Macbeth quickly
accedes to his wife\'s wishes, displaying his willingness to trust his destiny
in