Macbeth: A Tragedy? Essay, Research Paper
Macbeth: A Tragedy? Is William Shakespear’s Macbeth, truly a tragedy? Aristotle interpreted tragedy as a genre aimed to present a heightened and harmonious imitation of nature and in particular, those aspects of nature that touch most closely upon human life. He claims tragedy is not an imitation of men, but of action and life. That it is by men’s actions that they acquire happiness or sadness. Aristotle stated that tragedy produces a healthful effect on the human character through a catharsis, a “proper purgation” of “pity and terror”. While I agree with all these points, Aristotle left out the most important aspect of tragedy and the key to the catharsis effect on the reader . A successful tragedy must have a tragic character that the reader can relate to and empathize with. They need to be able to place themselves in the characters shoes and feel the conflict the character feels. The pity and terror needs to come from the reader being able to feel the characters conflict and wondering what they would do in the same situation. Does Macbeth succeed at this level? Can the reader feel pity and terror for Macbeth and the fate that was foreordained for him? Alternatively, does the reader feel that Macbeth is a greedy, power hungry fool that felt he could get away with murder? I believe the latter is the more likely reaction, and that the reader sees Macbeth as a villain, feeling little or no pity for him. While Aristotle insists that the main character of a tragedy must have a “tragic flaw”, I insist the character also needs to have many redeeming qualities to truly be a tragic figure. Shakespears Romeo and Juliet were young and beautiful and in love but their tragic flaw was their naivete and the type of bull headedness that you only see in youth. Almost everyone can relate to being young and in love and bull headed. We can feel and mostly have felt the emotions that Romeo and Juliet felt. It’s because of this shared experience that we feel the pity and the terror.Macbeth, on the other hand, doesn’t have many redeeming qualities. He is introduced to the reader as an honest and humble leader, but once the prophesy is revealed to him he begins planning the murder of not just his Lord but his friend. The side of him that others don’t see is revealed. The greed and lust for power, are very powerful parts of Macbeths make up. As the story progresses Macbeth continues to slide farther down the proverbial slippery slope only being slowed by his conscience as is evident in these quotes: In Act 2, Scene 2, Macbeth confides in Lady Macbeth after the murder of Duncan:But wherefore could not I pronounce “Amen”? I had most need of blessing, and “Amen” Stuck in my throat.And:Methought I heard a voice cry, “Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep,” the innocent sleep, Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care, The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast-Macbeth shall sleep no more. In this scene, he shows great turmoil over the deed he has done. Thus the reader is shown that Macbeth is acting out deeds that he knows are wrong but continues to do. Is this remorse enough to stimulate pity within the reader? After all, the man just committed his first of many murders! His contrition seems to fade as his want of power flourishes. So Macbeth continues-the powers of evil feeding on every move he makes-to make way for his advancement as prophesied by the witches. He hires his men to eliminate Banquo, a threat to his cumulative reign. Having Banquo out of the way, Macbeth surges with the sense of power. There is no doubt that he is acting on the impulses that were stimulated by the first prophecies of his fate. In Act 4 Scene 1, he returns to the three witches, desiring more information regarding his fortune. They in turn assure him that “none of woman born shall harm Macbeth.” Invincible power! Macbeth forgets the other two prophecies:Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth! Beware Macduff, Beware the Thane of Fife…And:Be lion-mettled, proud, and take no care Who chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are. Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill Shall come against him.
The witches have spoken again, with unforeseeable truth. Macbeth leaves the dreaded sisters, blinded by his own ambition. Let the players play! He is assured that he is indestructible, for how could Macduff, a man of woman born, hurt him? How could the Birnam Wood come to Dunsinane Hill?Preposterous! Macbeth leads on, confident and bold. He flashes his power, exalts himself, and fears no one, not even himself. He no longer cares that he does not sleep. Act 5 Scene 3 opens with Macbeth:Bring me no more reports. Let them fly all! Till Birnam Wood remove to Dunsinane, I cannot taint with fear. What’s the boy Malcolm? Was he not born of woman? The spirits that know All mortal consequences have pronounced me thus: “Fear not, Macbeth. No man that’s born of woman Shall e’er have power upon thee.”Then fly, false thanes,And mingle with the English epicures! The mind I sway by and the heart I bear Shall never sag with doubt nor shake with fear.Having all the confidence in the world, or at least thinking he does, Macbeth proceeds in a boisterous manner. His fate, once prophesied to him, has now acquired complete control. He has the titles promised him. He has found protection in the strength of witch’s words. How can the reader pity such a fool? The only thing to do is laugh at him, for it can be sure that the prophecies which Macbeth has misunderstood will come to pass; Macbeth will fall.And fall he does. Macduff, figuratively but not literally of woman born, does the impossible and brings the wood to the hill, and brings the fall of the great and powerful Macbeth. A tragic ending? I would say not. A tragic ending would have been for Macduff to fall to Macbeth. Macduff risking all and succeeding in removing a murderer from the throne is not tragic.Who do we feel sorry for? Could it be Macduff, who was ripped untimely from his mother’s womb. Maybe some readers feel some pity for Lady Macbeth. We certainly don’t feel pity for Macbeth. Shakespeare fails to supply redeeming qualities that would help balance the evil deeds Macbeth does. Macbeth lost control of himself, and allowed himself to be led by Fate. He does not heed warnings of potential hazards. The Macbeth we were introduced to certainly wasn’t the one that eventually emerged. If he had been a man of honesty and humility, he wouldn’t have deserved this fate. But on the whole, he was a greedy, power hungry, inept murderer and was no longer an honest and humble man.I think that even the most humble and honest person in the world could be swayed to corruption. The Macbeth Empire could be compared to Mark Twain’s Hadleyburg. In comparing Macbeth to The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg, we might be able to see Macbeth as a satirical comedy. Macbeth, honest and humble, was corrupted by the powers of fortune in much the same way that the people of Hadleyburg, also honest and humble, were corrupted by the same powers. The reader could not possibly pity the community of Hadleyburg, and would typically cheer at its fall. Isn’t it the same with Macbeth? The townspeople of Hadleyburg felt remorseful when they realized they’d been had, in much the same way that Macbeth surely felt when he learned of Macduff’s method of birth. The people of Hadleyburg thought that no harm could come to them, because they held proper character; they were in proper form. But behind closed doors they planned their strategies to acquire the power, provided in the form of a monetary inheritance. This greed/lust for power was the Hadleyburg downfall. The greed was their enemy. Likewise with Macbeth. A strong leader, upheld by his loyal comrades, could do no wrong. But once he learned he was to acquire some great fortune, he was his own enemy. His lust for power drove him to his bitter end.Do we consider the Hadleyburg tale a tragedy? No. We see it as satire. It is a sarcastic view of society’s morals and values, and how hypocritical people, including ourselves, can be. Putting Macbeth on a parallel with this entertaining American short story allows us to see just how far from a tragedy Macbeth is.