Macbeth: Tragic Hero or Dead Butcher? Essay Sample
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Introduction of TOPIC
At the end of the play, Malcolm dismisses Macbeth as a “dead butcher.” However, some might see Malcolm as being biased in his opinions, due to the fact that he only hears about Macbeth’s actions- which is bad enough seeing as rumours are often embellished, but also because the audience gets a more in-depth view of Macbeth’s character. Another reason that Malcolm’s views are a little unjust, is that Malcolm is still angry at Macbeth for killing his father, blaming him and Donaldbain for the murder “We hear our cruel cousins are not…confessing their cruel parricide,” and for stealing Malcolm’s rightful title as king “True my lord.” He is also still grieving for his father “Our tears are not yet brewed.” For these reasons, Malcolm cannot rationally judge Macbeth and goes by what he knows- Macbeth is ruthless and a traitor ” This tyrant whose sole name blisters our tongues, once was honest…” As audience members who aren’t involved, we must weigh up all of the evidence and make up our own minds about the situation.
“present fears are less that horrible imaginings”
Macbeth has several fatal flaws. The first is his “…vaulting ambition,” and the second fatal flaw is the fact that he is too involved in his own thoughts. We first see this as his mind set when he first meets the witches “Tell me more…this supernatural soliciting is…smothered in surmise…” The witches subconsciously encourage Macbeth’s ambition that in turn triggers Macbeth’s innermost thoughts to turn over in his mind and for his introverted character to be born. The witches achieve this by voicing these innermost thoughts “…shall be king hereafter.” Which touches a nerve within Macbeth “Come what may.” This indicates that these first two fatal flaws are very much intertwined and trigger each other off as if in a vicious circle. We know this because if Macbeth weren’t so lost in his thoughts “My dull brain was wrought with things forgotten,” then he would not think about his ambition and would just dismiss the witches as “the instruments of darkness,” as Banquo does.
The problem with Macbeth’s ambition is that it becomes more sinister and self-gratifying as the play develops. At the beginning of the play, because Macbeth is afraid of killing unless in battle “present fears are less that horrible imaginings.” And because he isn’t so pre-occupied with kill all that stands in his way, his intentions are less greedy. Macbeth also feels that the idea of Duncan’s death is whimsical “…whose murder is fantastical…” and that he isn’t worthy enough to be Thane of Cawdor “The Thane of Cawdor lives a prosperous gentleman…”
When Ross comes bearing news that Macbeth is to be Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth’s ambitions more on to becoming king and they make him even more hungry for power “Let us towards the king.” His thoughts start to become more closed around this and he starts to consider killing King Duncan because he feels that this is the only way that he can become king. Macbeth’s speech reflects these thoughts because he uses expressions that could be thoughts of himself killing Duncan such as “suggestion”, “horrid image”, “horrible imaginings”, “my thought” and “surmise.”
Macbeth’s other fatal flaw [and the only one that really renders him helpless] is that he is very accommodating, quite eager to please and very easily led astray. This is shown at the beginning of the play with the witches who plant the idea of murder in Macbeth’s mind and teasingly coax it to grow “All hail Macbeth…Thane of Glamis…Thane of Cawdor…that shalt be king hereafter…” The time of this meeting is very important to the future of the play because it takes place straight after Macbeth and Banquo have done battle. This means that Macbeth already has the stench of blood in his nostrils and the idea of his ambition excites him more because of this. He then sends a letter to Lady Macbeth about his meeting with the witches and she then starts to plot the murder of Duncan.
Macbeth is in two minds about whether to kill Duncan. He feels that on one hand, Duncan is a good and respected king, killing is wrong and he won’t get away with it. On the other hand, he thinks that if he kills Duncan, then he can become King of Scotland and fulfil his dream. Lady Macbeth however, wants to become Queen very badly. She knows that Macbeth has an ambition to be king but she doesn’t think that it is enough to make him kill Duncan ” Art though afeared to be the same in thine own act and valour…” So Lady Macbeth feels that she must persuade Macbeth into killing Duncan. She does this by playing on his manhood and calling him names.
Lady Macbeth accuses her husband of being the cat who wants the fish but is afraid of the water “Like the poor cat i’th’adage?” She also accuses him of going back on his promise of Duncan’s murder because he is too scared “When dunst do it, then you were a man.” This shows that Lady Macbeth is in control of the murder from the moment that s
he gets news of Macbeth’s meeting with the witches. She uses Macbeth as if he were only a pawn
The fact that Macbeth is capable of rational and sensible thoughts at the beginning of the play, makes the audience afraid for the future of Macbeth’s future actions and his sanity -both at the hands of Lady Macbeth. Macbeth obviously knows that he isn’t evil enough to kill Duncan and so he hallucinates about seeing a blood stained dagger-representing evil, that leads him to Duncan “Is this a dagger I see before me?” This indicates that subconsciously Macbeth feels as though he needs a reason other than his ambition to go to Duncan and murder him.
This new state of mind never leaves Macbeth as he beings his many soliloquies which continue to plague him until his death. It is Macbeth’s soliloquies however that shows us the full depth of Macbeth’s character. His first soliloquy it seems is in Act 1 scene 7, when he agonises over killing Duncan. In this soliloquy, it seems that Macbeth understands the consequences of his possible future actions and he knows that if he kills Duncan, then it will haunt him “Bloody instructs…to plague th’inventor.” Macbeth rarely speaks directly of killing Duncan. Instead, he uses euphemisms like “it”, “tis” and “assassination.” This also shows that the act of murder intimidates Macbeth. In this soliloquy in particular, a lot of antithesis are used “…like angels…against the deep damnation…” This shows that he is in two minds about killing Duncan and that Macbeth feels there is only one reason to ahead with the murder “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition…”
Macbeth does however go ahead with the murder and afterwards, is conscious-stricken as he struggles to say “Amen.” Not being able to say this implies that God will not bless him and that he is doomed to eternal damnation. Macbeth also thinks that he hears a voice foretelling that he not sleep anymore ” Me thought I heard a voice cry ‘sleep no more: Macbeth does murder sleep’…” These things show Macbeth falling apart at the smallest sound “Whence is that knocking?”
“…I fear thou played’st most foully…”
After Macbeth’s crowning as king, Banquo suspects that Macbeth has become king by evil means “…I fear thou played’st most foully…” although he is comforted by the thought that his good sons will be kings as the witches has said. This shows the difference between Macbeth and Banquo. Shakespeare conveys this difference by having Banquo as the honourable and god fearing man and Macbeth as the deceiver. Banquo conscientiously fights evil thoughts “Restrain in me the cursï¿½d thoughts…” where as Macbeth gives in to his. Macbeth realises that Banquo thinks he has killed Duncan and makes the excuse that Malcolm and Donaldbain have been spreading malicious rumours “We hear out bloody cousins are…filling their hearers with strange invention.”
While having this talk with Banquo, Macbeth has in mind to kill him but deceives Banquo with pleasant words that actually help to plan the murder in Macbeth’s head ” Ride you this afternoon?” This is another example that shows the different characters of the two friends. After this Macbeth hired murderers who go and kill Banquo because Macbeth fears that Banquo’s descendants will become kings. Although this achieves nothing as Banquo’s son Fleance escapes. The news of this puts fear back into the heart of Macbeth. Macbeth’s guilt gets the better of him again and he hallucinates that he sees Banquo’s ghost at is banquet. Seeing this ghost makes Macbeth enter his third ‘soliloquy state’ which reveals his fears to his fears to his banquet guests and to the audience “Blood hath been shed…but now they rise again…you make me strange…”
By saying ‘hallucination’, Macbeth must be mad and I feel that his power hungry nature has turned him into blood crazed, paranoid man. He is so anxious and paranoid that after he sees Banquo’s ghost and when he hears that Macduff is trying to get him thrown over by the English, he goes to the witches for his last bit of advice, which shows how low he has sunk.
The witches’ visions tell Macbeth that he should beware of Macduff but no naturally born man can kill him. They also say that Banquo’s descendants will be kings. Macbeth doesn’t exactly know how to take this and flies into a mad rage, vowing to kill Macduff. Because Macduff is in England, Macbeth is in such a state that he sends murderers to kill the closest thing to Macduff-his family “The castle of Macduff I will surprise…unfortunate souls…” This decision is the last event that sets Macbeth’s demise but he doesn’t have the foresight to know it. By this stage of the play, Macbeth is consumed by a bloodthirsty rage.
When Macduff hears of what has happened to his family, he acquires an army to advance on Macbeth. Macbeth gets to his castle and finds Lady Macbeth has killed herself. Here you see a faint glimmer of the old Macbeth as he broods on life’s futility without his wife “…full of sound and furry, signifying nothing.” Macbeth becomes aware of Macduff coming and knows that he will have to die fighting. This shows Macbeth as he has come in full circle. Although he is still insane, deep in his heart, Macbeth is repenting for his crimes and he uses the old Macbeth spirit of the brave soldier “At least we’ll die with harness on our back.” As Macbeth comes up against Macduff in the final fight, Macbeth knows his luck has run out although he doesn’t apologise for his crimes or bow to Malcolm, showing Macbeth’s problem with authority ” I will not yield to kill the ground before young Malcolm’s feet…” These images of Macbeth as a brave soldier yet still a bloodthirsty man is a manipulation by Shakespeare to make you think before you condemn him to either side.
Before we determine whether Macbeth is a tragic hero or not, we must before what a tragic hero is. You must be someone of noble birth. Macbeth satisfies these criteria as he is Duncan’s cousin and was originally Thane of Cawdor. You must have fatal flaws in your character. Macbeth has several fatal flaws including his vaulting ambition, his introspection and being easily led astray. There must be occasions that play on these flaws. Most of the play revolves around Macbeth’s weaknesses but especially his soliloquies and hallucinations.
Your actions must lead to your death but you regret your errors. Macbeth becomes so power hungry that he must kill everything in his way, which eventually becomes his downfall. He regrets killing innocent people in his heart but never actually makes a formal apology and refuses to bow to Malcolm as king. Innocent people must suffer in the process. Banquo, Duncan and Macduff’s family were killed but Macbeth’s actions emotionally hurt those like Malcolm, Donaldbain and Macduff. The audience must feel sympathy for the character. I do feel some sort of sympathy for Macbeth. All of these things are true about Macbeth.
Also the fact that he has an accomplice [Lady Macbeth] and that he becomes insane prevent him from being held fully accountable for his actions. However, because he has rational thoughts, knew the consequences of his actions, could have stopped Lady Macbeth at the beginning of the play and never makes an apology for his actions, I feel ‘tragic hero’, is the wrong phrase to use. To be a hero, you must have done something great and there was nothing noble about Macbeth’s killings. In the demise of Macbeth, one feels sympathy at the waste of a potentially great man, so I would say that Macbeth is just a man who is condemned by his own flaws.