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Was Macbeth a tragic hero? Or was he a crazed serial killer who thrived upon the killings of both friends and enemies? Shakespeare’s knowledge of human nature was confirmed again by this tragedy, which reflects the idea of crime and consequence. Macbeth is the story of a well - respected soldier, whose ambition is his fatal weakness. The timely prophecies of three witches about his future confirm his ambition of becoming king and aided by his cunning wife who shares his desires he is driven to evil. In this essay I will try to prove that he had “vaulting ambition” rather than just being a cold - blooded murderer.

Macbeth has all the qualities of a classic Shakespearean tragic hero. He was of high birth and position, Thane of Glamis and co-leader with best friend Banquo of the king’s army. Although co-leader the king speaks of him more frequently than his counterpart and therefore I consider him the senior out of the two. This is confirmed in Act One Scene Two when Duncan receives reports back about the proceedings of the battles; at not one time in this report is there a mention of Banquo only of “Brave Macbeth” and without even Macbeth speaking a word you get the impression that he is a strong loyal character whom everyone respects.

Of all these features of a tragic hero the most important is his ambition, which is played upon by circumstances. I consider this very important as Macbeth’s ambition was triggered by the prophecies of the witches. There is also a hint of evil in Macbeth from the first time he talks “ so foul and fair a day I have not seen” This echoes the first words of the witches “Fair is Foul and Foul is Fair”! This I believe is more than coincidental. The witch’s prophecies are “All hail Macbeth, hail to thee, Thane of Glamis! The second is All hail Macbeth, hail to thee Thane of Cawdor! And “All hail Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter” These prophecies are to the play as the thoughts of becoming king have already tempted Macbeth and I believe the witches knew this. When the witch’s prophesise that MacBeth shall be king, he starts as in fear this shows initially that he had at least some sort of conscious. The suggestion is that is that they give utterance to his own secret thought. When they vanish instead of answering Banquo’s question “good sir, why do you start, and seem to fear things that do sound so fair” he exclaims “would they had stay’d” Banquo however is surprised by Macbeths reaction to what seem so “fair” not knowing that fair words have provoked evil thoughts twice already in the play.

Lady Macbeth is a very important character in the play. As I believe that it is her taunts that eventually makes up Macbeths mind into killing his friend and king .As in Act One Scene Seven Macbeth leaves the supper he has prepared for Duncan early. At this moment he speaks a crucial soliloquy in the play. He shows his concern towards the projected murder. He gives three reasons for not performing the murder “First, I am his kinsman and his subject both strong against the deed; then as, his host”. The second reason is “he is here in double trust” and finally “Besides, this Duncan hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been so clear in his great office”. At this point Macbeth openly admits that ambition is the only reason to kill the king “ I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself, and falls on th’ other” and this is the first time he does so as he knows all to well the horrors of what he is proposing to do. As Lady Macbeth enters Macbeth tells her he will not go through with the murder of Duncan and she accuses him of not loving her and disgracing his manhood. She describes him as to full of “the milk o’ the human kindness” an extra-ordinary statement in the light of the murders he commits. This act is vital and without the influence of the witches and his wife Macbeth show that Macbeth would not have murdered Duncan as he shows weaknesses before and after the murder. Throughout the play MacBeth shows a sense of morality. A good example of this is the banquet scene. This scene suggests he is becoming mentally unhinged as he to sees an apparition of the murdered Banquo. Before he sees the ghost he is a good host and very welcoming of his guests but when told Banquo’s son Fleance has escaped from the murderers he say” here comes my fit again”.

The last act of the play is emotional as it shows that Macbeth is not just a cold-blooded murderer as he has regrets about his life, “ I have lived long enough. My way of life is fallen into the sear, the yellow leaf; And that which should accompany old age, as honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,” Ironically these are qualities of Duncan the king he murdered had and I feel he saw Duncan as someone to be admired. That’s why he had such difficulty killing him In the second last scene Macbeth became his old self a warrior in battle who believed he was invincible due to the second set of witch’s prophecies. This stated he could not be killed by a man who was woman born he was indomitable until to Birnam wood came to Dunsinane, Hectate, the head of the witches warned him to beware Macduff and as it turned out Macduff was not of woman born, as he was “untimely ripp’d” from his mother’s womb. Mac duff’s final taunt inspires Macbeth to fight to the death and not imitate the ancient Romans who thought it was honourable to commit suicide when faced with overwhelming odds” Why should I play the Roman fool and die on mine own sword” an admirable ending for a true hero.

The ending proves that Macbeth was primarily a warrior, though succumbing to the temptation that the witches a proposed to him, it’s courage I came to admire the most about him confirmed when he declared at his death scene“ I will not yield” He will take on his fate as well as Macduff “yet I will try to the last”. While it does not mitigate the crimes it does enable us to see the return of the valiant warrior whom was lavished with praise in the first scene by his superiors.

Stewart McBride 1,110 words

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