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Is Macbeth a Traditional Tragic Hero Argumentative

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Many people have read or watched the play Macbeth, either in the theatre, cinema or at home but what is their opinion on it? The play is probably remembered for its many twists and turns of the main character Macbeth and the surroundings of which he was entwined in. But is that all? Can he, Macbeth be a Traditional Tragic Hero or is he just one of the characters of the play.

A Traditional Tragic Hero has to bear a certain five merits about them. Noble birth is the first of the five. This means he must be respected and be part of a reputable family. The second quality is they have to be brave, which means they are fearless, bold, resolute and fight for their country and their people. Thirdly, they must have a fatal flaw regarding them, which means they have a certain weakness that dilutes them of their normal self. The fourth distinction of a Traditional Tragic Hero is they must have caused suffering to others. The fifth and final quality is that the audience should feel a sense of loss at his death.

A Traditional Tragic Hero can be fair, great, and pure of heart or could be devious, foul, evil and heartless. Macbeth fits into this persona of Traditional Tragic Hero and the proof of this is all over the play.

Regarding Noble Birth, Macbeth fits into this almost at the beginning of the play. [I ii L.24], Duncan refers to Macbeth as his cousin,

“O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!”

This gives Macbeth a status of Noble Birth. This means that Macbeth already has slotted himself into one of the five elements of a Traditional Tragic Hero. Macbeth is related to Duncan, King of Scotland so he is already of Noble Birth. In the Mediaeval Age if you were related to the Royal Family, you were considered as of being of Noble Birth, and this is still regarded today. Even if you were not related to the Royal Family and you were a captain, thane or nobleman you were regarded of Noble Birth. Even if Shakespeare had had not written that Macbeth was related to Duncan, there is still evidence to support is of a Noble Birth. This evidence is in [I ii L.34]:

“Our captains, Macbeth and Banquo?”

Another meaning of Noble Birth as it is stated at the beginning of the play is that they must be respected. Macbeth is respected by a vast majority of people. [I ii L.24] Duncan refers to Macbeth:

“O valiant cousin! Worthy gentleman!”

This is great respect shown to Macbeth by “God’s” representative on Earth. That is probably the greatest respect anyone could receive in the mediaeval age. There is still further respect shown to Macbeth in [I iii L.51]:

“Good sir, why do you start, and seem to fear”

And [I iii L.54]:

“Which outwardly ye show? My noble partner”

These two are said by Banquo. Banquo is a worthy and noble person himself and, like Macbeth, he is part of the Scottish Hierarchy. So having been shown respect by two people of great eminence gives the impression that Macbeth is a respected man.

One of the other pieces of proof to support Macbeth being respected is one of the most obvious points but is overlooked by people. It is of course that he is at the start of the play the “Thane of Glamis” and later is promoted to the position of the “Thane f Cawdor.”

The second element of the five merits of a Traditional Tragic Hero is being Brave. Macbeth is outstandingly brave throughout the play, not just when he is good but also when he is evil.

An example of Macbeth’s bravery is in [I ii L.16 – 23], where when asked to report on the battle, the Sergeant praises him for his bravery, using bold words to describe him and eminent phrases. There are many points to describe Macbeth’s Bravery:

“………………, with his brandish’d steel

Which smok’d with bloody execution,”

These lines mean that Macbeth used his weapon “brandish’d steel” which means he used his sword with deadly conviction. Shakespeare is at his best here where he gives personification to the sword, “Which smok’d with bloody execution,” this gives the audience the impression that the sword has a life of its own. Another part in this stanza referring to Macbeth’s bravery is:

“Like valour’s minion carv’d out his passage

Till he fac’d the slave;

Shakespeare personifies bravery to emphasise Macbeth’s bravery. The word “carv’d” emphasises the violent way in which him makes his way towards his enemy. Slaves are of no power which shows Macbeth’s superiority.

The third part of this quote to prove Macbeth’s bravery is:

“Till he unseam’d him from the nave to the chap

And fix’d his head upon our battlements.”

This quote defines how brave Macbeth really is because a regular soldier would just have fought a soldier, killed him and moved on to his next target, but Macbeth shows his power and bravery by cutting off a soldiers head and this is in turn shows the enemy that he, Macbeth, is force to be reckoned with, that they should be scared of him.

An additional example of his bravery is the plays turning point, the pivot holding the two sides of Macbeth. Even though Macbeth and Lady Macbeth believe they are doing the right thing, it takes a great amount of courage to kill a person, but to kill a King drains Macbeth’s good part of his bravery and in floods the evil part of his bravery. To kill a King, even today where there is democracy that is the power that runs a country, but especially in the Mediaeval Age is treason, as people in the mediaeval age believed that the King was “God’s” representative on the Earth, and still many people regard this ideology as true. Knowing this, Macbeth continues with Lady Macbeth and his devious plan to kill Duncan, King of Scotland.

One other example of Macbeth’s bravery is in [V iii L. 32]

“I’ll fight till my bones my flesh be hack’d.

Give me my armour.”

This quote represents Macbeth’s bravery even after he knows that his followers have deserted him. Shakespeare takes the opportunity to remind the audience of Macbeth’s former bravery. Many people would have just have hanged up their boots and given themselves up but he is a true brave person. Another quote to represent this is in [V vii L. 30-32]

“Why should I play the Roman fool, and die

On mine own sword? While I see lives, the gashes

Do better upon them.”

The Romans thought it dishonourable to be captured, and when they knew that they were defeated they committed suicide. But he stands firm even after all that has happened and especially after Lady Macbeth’s recent departure into death.

Even after he discovers that Macduff is not of “woman born”, which means that Macduff’s mother did not give natural birth to him, so he was the only one who could kill him. Macbeth still does not give himself up. [V vii L.56-63]:

“…………….I will not yield,

To kiss the ground before young Malcolm’s feet,

And to be baited with the rabble’s curse.

Though Birnam wood be come to Dunsinane,

And though oppos’d, being of no woman born,

Yet I will try the last. Before my body

I throw my warlike shield :lay o, Macduff,

And damn’d be him that first cries, ‘ Hold, enough!”

The third fragment of the five qualities of a Traditional Tragic Hero is a fatal flaw. The Concise English Dictionary defines Fatal as something lethal and deadly that occurs and it defines Flaw as a break, a defect. All in all Fatal Flaw means a deadly defect/s to describe Macbeth. Macbeth’s Fatal Flaw is his ambition. His ambition is like a horse which tries to jump too high and falls in the other side of the fence. His ambition is so high that he is often found to be gullible, which means he is easily manipulated or mislead and he listens to too much around him and does not think for himself. There are many quotes to prove this. [I iii L.48-50]:

” All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!

All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!

All hail, Macbeth! that shalt be King hereafter.”

These lines are quoted by the Three Witches, who the scene before plotted to ruin Macbeth. He at first doubts the Three Witches. [ I iii L. 71- 73]:

” By Sinel’s death I know I am Thane of Glamis;

But how of Cawdor? The Thane of Cawdor lives,

A prosperous gentle man; and to be king”

But at the arrival of Ross, where he pronounces that Macbeth has been just made Thane of Cawdor, his mind changes. Shakespeare here gives Macbeth a Soliloquy, which means when a character is alone on a stage. The character shares his innermost thoughts and feelings. Because the character is alone on the stage, the audience knows that the character must be telling the truth. [I iii L.130-142]:

“( Aside) This supernatural soliciting

Cannot be ill, cannot be good; if ill,

Why hath it given me earnest of success,

Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor:

If good, why do I yield to that suggestion

Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,

Against the use of nature? Present fears

Are less than horrible imaginings;

My thought, whose murder yet is but is fantastical,

Shakes so my single state of man that function

Is smother’d in surmise, and nothing is

But what is not.”

This is the first time that Macbeth thinks about murdering someone, which his mind thinks as only plain fantasy, but he cannot do anything because he is wondering what will happen “surmise”. It is only the future “what is not” he is sure about.

One other example of Macbeth’s ambition is when Duncan announces that his eldest son, Malcolm, will become the heir to throne and Prince of Cumberland. [I iv L. 37-39]:

“We will establish our estate upon

Our eldest, Malcolm, whom we name hereafter

The Prince of Cumberland…”

The Prince of Cumberland is basically like the Prince of Wales who is heir to the English throne, so the Prince of Cumberland is the heir to the Scottish throne. Macbeth in turn is given another Soliloquy by Shakespeare to represent what he really feels. [I iv L. 48-50]:

“The Prince of Cumberland! that is step

On which I must fall down, or else o’er-leap,

For in my way it lies.”

This quote is probably where Macbeth decided that he was going to have to commit a murder in order to become the King, where Malcolm is another obstacle in his quest to become King and get what should rightfully be his.

The turning point of the play is in the last three scenes of the First Act and the first scene of the Second Act where Duncan arrives at Macbeth’s castle. This act is where Macbeth murders Duncan, King of Scotland. But before he embarks on this sacrilege deed, he has his doubts. But Lady Macbeth taunts him by disgracing him, through telling him that he will become a beast if he deprives himself of this chance. [I vii L.47-51]:

“What beast was’t, then,

That made you break this enterprise to me?

When you durst do it, then you were a man;

And, to be more than what you were, you would

Be so much more than a man…..”

To Macbeth being a man is everything. It shows his superiority over everyone, he likes it when people praise him and to have his own wife taunting him of the man he is, pierces him deep in his mind and heart. The underlined words are the ones that really attack Macbeth deep in is heart. They are not the most strongest words ever written but they are strong enough to etch their way into Macbeths’ mind.

Another example of Macbeth’s ambition is in [III i] where he has inherited the throne after Duncan’s murder and Malcolm and Donalbain, the two sons of Duncan, flee after their fathers murder. Macbeth has gained what he initially wanted but then greed took over. In [I iii] Macbeth has been prophesised by the Three Witches that he will gain the Scottish throne, but Banquo, who was also there, was prophesised that his children will be Kings. Macbeth does not want only the throne but also for his children to become Kings. So he hires two murderers at first to assassinate Banquo and Fleance, Banquo’s son. [III I] Macbeth persuades the two Murderers that it was because of Banquo that they have suffered in life. [III I L.114-115]:

“Both of you

Know that Banquo is your enemy.”

Just before the conversation ends, Macbeth tells them that they also have to kill Fleance, Banquo’s son. [III I L.134-135]:

“To leave no rubs nor botches in the work-

Fleance his son, that keeps him company,”

To prove that Macbeth’s ambition is so high he hires a Third Murderer, when he already has two. The other two Murderers are astounded that Macbeth does not trust them.

The fourth factor of a Traditional Tragic Hero is causing suffering to others. Macbeth causes a myriad number of people and nature to suffer. When Macbeth murders Duncan, King of Scotland, everyone suffers. [II iv] Ross and an old man discuss the unnatural events that occurred on the night of Duncan’s murder. They learn from Macduff that the King’s two sons have fled and that Macbeth has been instated as the King.

The unnatural events are [II iv L.12-13]:

“A falcon, towering in her pride of place,

Was by a mousing owl hawk’d at and kill’d.”

Normally a falcon would hawk, pounce on its prey, upon a mousing owl but at Duncan’s death it is the other way round where the falcon is the prey and the mousing owl is the predator. Another of these unnatural events is [II iv L. 13-18]:

“And Duncan’s horses -a thing most strange and certain-

Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race,

Turn’d wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out,

Contending ‘gainst obedience, as thy would

Make war with mankind.”

The horses who are the “minions of their race” meaning that they are the best of their race, have broke out of their stalls and they are fighting against the training that made them obedient.

An additional example of Macbeth causing suffering to others is in [III iv] where Macbeth hires three Murderers to kill Banquo and Fleance. He does not have to get Banquo but his ambition drives him forward.

When Macbeth discovers that Macduff is a threat to him he orders murderers to kill Macduff’s family. This causes great distress to Macduff. When he finds out, Malcolm says to Macduff to “dispute it like a man.” Macduff’s reply [IV iii L.220]:

“I shall do so;

Bi must also feel it like a man:

I cannot but remember such things were,

That were most precious to me. Did Heaven look on,

And would not take their part? Sinful Macduff!

They were all stuck for thee. Naught that I am,

Not for their own demerits, but for mine,

Fell slaughter on their souls. Heaven rest them now.”

Macduff is asking that is it because of his sins that his family have been slaughtered, is it for his failings? and he prays that his wife and children be in heaven.

The fifth and final part of a Traditional Tragic Hero is audience should feel a sense of loss at Macbeth’s death. I do feel a sense of loss because of the man he could have become if he had not listened to the Three Witches and his wife. If only he did not have such high ambitions he would have been remembered as a true person. He had served his country well before Duncan’s death and before he died he still showed bravery when even the purest and greatest of people would have given up. In the end he knew that he was wrong.

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