A review of the play, Macbeth by Aristotle fits perfectly in the definition of a tragedy as presented by Shakespeare. The assertion is justified by the use of several elements salient in Aristotle’s application of a tragic hero. The effect that Aristotle had on Shakespeare’s writing has crucial evidence in the literary works that the latter did many years after the former’s death. One of the notable aspects that justify this assertion relates to Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, and in particular the character, Macbeth. In the drama, Shakespeare presents Macbeth as a tragic hero, in a manner characteristic of Aristotle’s presentation of a tragic hero (Lau and Wing 134). Historically, the two scholars lived in different periods, but a close assessment of the play Macbeth reveals an essential similarity in the way the play uses Aristotle’s three elements of a tragic story and the four divisions of a tragedy to bring out the main character as a tragic hero. To this end, this paper assesses the extent to which Aristotle’s ideas of tragedy in ‘Poetics’ may be applicable in deeming Macbeth as a tragic hero.
According to Aristotle, three essential elements comprise a tragic story. The three components are necessary premises in the assessment of Macbeth as a tragic hero. The first part is the hamartia, which is Greek for a disastrous flaw. Hamartia refers to a grave flaw inherent to a hero in a play that may be the cause of such leading character’s eventual downfall. The second element that may determine the tragic component of a story is peripeteia (Caraher 11). The term peripeteia is Greek for sudden turnaround in the fortunes in an illusory narrative. The use of peripeteia may often signify the point at which change in circumstances becomes manifest in the hero’s life. The third essential element is the anagnorisis.
Anagnorisis refers to a certain point or moment in the course of a literary play where the main character makes a life-changing discovery. In the case of Shakespeare, the scholar uses anagnorisis to indicate the point at which the main character or hero, Macbeth, realize certain truths about their identity, and that discovery marks an essential change of reversal in the original course of the play (Bradley 254). The three elements, in this case, may be critical in the assessment of Macbeth’s role as a tragic hero.
The construction of a tragedy may also be separable into more than one part according to Aristotle’s “Poetics.” The parts are important in the determination of the play Macbeth as a tragedy. The parts are the episode, the exodus, the Parados and the Stasimon. The parts form the key features of the tragedy and according to the “Poetics”; these four parts are essential in the formation of a tragic story with a tragic character. The paper uses these four components to show reasons why the play Macbeth and the main character fall under the genre of a tragedy and a tragic hero.
The Hero as a Distinguished Person
The Aristotelian view of a hero is one who is revered initially and respected within the society. The hero begins from the point of reverence and admiration from the inferiors and the superiors. The beginning is also reminiscent of the prologue as notable in the Poetics. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the lead protagonist begins as an exceptional being with unusual individual traits that make him incomparable to the other commoners. The character is built on a grand scale, which assists in bringing out the nature of Macbeth as one of sheer pedigree and an unmatched character made on self-will and ambition (Bate 40). In fact, Macbeth stands out as a terrible force that anyone can reckon with a symbol of an ancient general. The description and presentation of Macbeth allow him to stand as a spiritual person deserving of reverence and admiration.
The presentation of Macbeth is such a manner is a prologue in line with the Aristotelian plot of a tragedy, which prepares the audience towards the introduction of the original hamartia. The greatness that is salient in Macbeth’s story will eventually have to contend with an underlying flaw, which in reality is indicative of the plot to display the fault finally as the reason for the eventual fall from grace. The plot in Macbeth, therefore, sets out a critical prologue that assists in preparing the audience to follow the episodes and ultimately witness Macbeth’s tragic flaw as it starts to manifest, this episodic structuring of the play is in line with the Aristotelian presentation of a tragic illusory (Bertheau 20). Shakespeare seems keen on ensuring that he displays Macbeth’s extraordinary qualities in the course of the play, a move that provides that the draws both admiration and reverence for the hero. The scholar refers to hero as the “brave Macbeth.” The step may deliberately aim at making sure that the audience views the tragic demise of Macbeth later in the play with sympathy and not as a well-deserved retribution.
Macbeth: A Tragic Hero
The assertion that Macbeth fits as a tragic hero in the play by Shakespeare may be justifiable through the interpretation developed from the three elements from Aristotle’s Poetics. The play by Macbeth presents the hero as an out of control insane person who is hell-bent on achieving his heinous self- indulging ruthless ambitions at the cost of everyone else around him. The consequences of this self-indulging ambition by Macbeth would eventually lead to his demise. The play introduces the inevitability of hamartia ultimately leading to the destruction of the hero. The definition of tragedy in this sense is the eventual result of pride or a deep flaw by a noble or a great person that eventually leads them to a path towards destruction. Macbeth is a perfect example of this heroic tragedy that ultimately leads to the murder of a perceived hero (Shakespeare 92). The hidden flaw in Macbeth in this regard emerges in the course of the play and ultimately becomes the cause of the hero’s demise.
According to Aristotle, the tragic hero must start in a high position and eventually end up in death or any other kind of degraded role due to their inherent and often secret flaw. Macbeth is indeed a story of tragedy as noted in the path that the Macbeth takes. The hero, Macbeth, starts as one of the revered personalities in the play but is unable to deal with his secret flaw that finally leads to his demise. The eventual fall from grace in Macbeth will form a critical background in the discussion on the merits that make the play a tragic story.
In the review of Poetics, Aristotle lays down the requirements that would apply in deeming a play as a tragic piece of literary works. The prerequisites form the premise on which to assess the role of Macbeth as a terrible antagonist. Aristotle attempts to bring out the antagonistic character as an imperfect human being who has an irredeemable flaw that may eventually cause their downfall. The underlying defect may be notable in the case of Macbeth. The character in the play has a fatal flaw or hamartia that leads him to make specific errors of judgment that leads to his fall from glory (Shakespeare 92). According to Aristotle, there must be a likable aspect of the character that draws the audience towards sympathizing with the situation. The underlying flaw is something that will eventually emerge as time elapses and causes the audience to struggle between hating the hero for his weakness and acknowledging the traits that make such a character a protagonist.
Hubris or the Tragic Flaw in Macbeth
The Greek usage of the term hubris often refers to the tragic flaw in a protagonist that often becomes the point of failure. In most cases, hubris is the reason that causes the leading character to face an instance of destruction and messes up with the characters possible rise to heroism. As noted, Macbeth has two significant flaws that lead to his disastrous downfall. The first is the overbearing pride that is manifest in the manner the character undertakes his routine activities. The overbearing pride is notable in more than one instance in the course of the play. The play allows the audience to reflect on the many cases that Macbeth would have indicated back on his actions and the possible consequences if Macbeth did not let his pride to take the better of him in the plot (Shakespeare 92). The lead character would have been able to control the extents of damage that eventually ensues. The overwhelming pride in this case also results to the other major flaw that ultimately becomes the cause of the hero’s downfall. The second fault refers to an unchecked ambition, which develops due to the hero’s feeling of pride and the assumption that he can achieve anything including the position of the King. In any argument, pride and ambition make up the basis of blemish that eventually leads to a downfall.
The emergence of evil desires that cause Macbeth to develop a burning desire to reign over the people is born out of his overwhelming pride to rule and to exercise tyrannical control over his subjects. The flaw is itself the reason why the dramatization may apply to a tragic story in line with Aristotle’s Poetics. Macbeth tragic flaw, in this case, is his unchecked ambition. The disastrous weakness in this context applies to Macbeth’s hamartia. Shakespeare purposely or accidentally uses an unbridled enthusiasm as the hamartia that eventually leads to the destruction of the hero. The scholar uses the unchecked ambition that is self-destructive wrought to display the main character’s flaw. The protagonist in the play is a Scottish general who is naturally non-inclined to commit any immoral deeds in his actions or conduct. The initial presentation of Macbeth makes him an enchanting hero. The character is perhaps what draws certain levels of sympathy from the audience.
The general is courageous and does not seem keen on committing any corrupt deeds. However, despite the observable heroic courage and likability in Macbeth, he has an obsession for power. The general shows a character of a person who is willing to do anything to achieve potential and advancements. The play initially introduces Macbeth but does not reveal this secret hamartia until partly into the illusory where the ambition and the unchecked aspirations emerge. Macbeth presents a character of a general who has a desire to possess power and advancement in terms of authority and control. For this reason, while at the beginning, Macbeth’s deep flaw is surreptitious; his ambitions eventually grow and become a self-destructive blemish (Shakespeare 92).
Hamartia becomes evident when Macbeth plots and kills King Duncan. The murder of King Duncan has orchestrated an earlier prophecy by three witches who confirm that Macbeth would one day be king. Lady Macbeth fuels the prediction, and eventually, Macbeth develops a belief that he can become King. In essence, while the play does not show the exact murder, which happens backstage, it is evident that Macbeth is overcome by ambition and decides to kill the King to achieve power and to advance his authority and control. Macbeth’s hamartia, which is his unchecked ambition, is to blame for his decision to kill King Duncan and by default ascend to power. Macbeth, therefore, takes over the helms of force against a backdrop of a slain king and a forceful takeover of power. Macbeth sees a vivid vision before he kills King Duncan, which includes a floating head that urges him to commit the heinous act of murder. In fact, Macbeth’s concept involves a hovering dagger that points him towards Duncan’s meeting room.
However, these visions could be a result of an incurable ambition that becomes almost an obsession, which eventually leads Macbeth to kill Duncan. The argument that is contrary to this assumption introduces the role of Lady Macbeth in the eventual decision to kill Duncan and assume the role of king and queen. The argument may be relevant in indicating that Macbeth is not entirely evil, rather various issues within his immediate environment assist in worsening his secret flaw. Macbeth takes up the throne for himself for the sake of power and not necessarily because of positive intent.
The episodic presentation of Macbeth as a revered Scottish general, then eventually as an ambitious king with a blemish is symbolic of the fall from grace that is common in tragic stories. The audience is left to struggle between hating him or still admire his courage once he kills Kind Duncan and declares himself king. The mixed feelings that emerge from the commoners (audience) combine awe, admiration, and terror because no one seems to understand the extents that Macbeth is willing to go to satisfy his ambitions. However, as the play progresses, it is clear that the audience is confused and torn between being repulsive to Macbeth for his evil deeds or pitying him for the destruction that awaits him as the episode unfolds.
Peripeteia in Macbeth
As noted in the background, the second critical element that reflects a tragic story according to the Aristotelian structure is the existence of a peripeteia, which is the ensuing turning point in the plot. The plot in the play takes certain notable turns and twists that reflect on the peripeteia. One of the instances that eventually lead the main character in the play, Macbeth, to rethink his actions occurs when his wife Lady Macbeth seems to have a moment of reconstitution in terms of thoughts and works in a move that sees her change her previous approach to issues in the play.
Initially, Lady Macbeth seems keen on pushing her husband towards the heinous actions. The woman is more cunning and more ambitious than her husband is, and her efforts are apparent in the plot to kill King Duncan (Bell 18). Nevertheless, the strength and resolve observable in Lady Macbeth changes gradually as she begins to see the evil side in their ambition to rise to the throne. The awakening and eventual shift in the Lady Macbeth reasons is essential in shaping the future direction of the play. Secondly, in the dramatization, peripeteia may be observable in the escape of Fleance after Banquo’s death. The witches who made a prophecy about Macbeth’s eventual rise to kinghood also told Banquo that he would never be king. However, as part of the prophecy by the witches, they promised Banquo that his descendants would ascend to kinghood. The information would ultimately get to Macbeth, who in his lust for power and authority views Banquo as a potential threat. The consequence is that Macbeth plans and kills Banquo. Nonetheless, Banquo can convince his son Fleance to escape and seek revenge as he claims back the kingdom as part of the prophecy. The scenario is perhaps the turning point in the play. The reality of the person he has become downs on Macbeth slowly but gradually. The rise to kinghood is not enough because he feels angry with himself as he notes that life is but a walking shadow.
In fact, at this point, it becomes clear that Macbeth also struggles with the decision to murder King Duncan but gives in to the urge to undertake the action by Lady Macbeth who is equally greedy for power. As noted, in the Aristotelian presentation of a tragic hero, the turning point often allows the audience to sieve through the minds of the hero who receives an awakening, turn around in terms of their thoughts, and approach to issues. The turnaround may not be used because in most cases the damage is already evident. For instance, in the fact of Macbeth, it is apparent that after the murder of King Duncan he shows a level of remorse and regret his actions. Peripeteia does not catch up with Macbeth at this time, and it only occurs once he sets out to kill Banquo in a bid to ensure that there is no competition or limitations in his claim to the throne. Shakespeare provides that while Banquo dies in the ensuing attack, his son Fleance escapes.
The escape of the son may be the basis upon which Macbeth begins to feel insecure and unsure about his actions and what they may lead to in the end. The three prophecies by the witches start to make sense to Macbeth about the eventual emergence of a competitor to his throne. The episodes also serve to show the transitions that Macbeth undergoes in the course of the play. The character begins as a sorry, peaceful, and calm person who is keen on standing up for moral decency and uprightness. The ambitions and desire for power gradually turn him into a remorseless individual willing to do anything to achieve power and authority. Macbeth begins to develop an apparent disregard for morality, becomes cold-blooded and ones he ascends to power shows clear instances of disregard for human life. However, at some point in the play after the death of Banquo and the successful escape of Fleance, Macbeth receives an awakening that is reminiscent of a peripeteia. The hero declares that life is a shadow that is too unstable, which is indicative of a person who is feeling the need to seek intervention and redemption for his undoing.
In any story that conforms to the Aristotelian structure of an eventual tragedy, there is an element of catharsis, which may often refer to the exclusion or the sanitization of emotions in ways that evokes pity and a part of fear from the audience. The use of catharsis in the play Macbeth makes the lead hero a tragic hero. The plot line in Macbeth allows the audience to internalize the act of murder and the resultant consequences that such an action may cause or lead to, especially in regard to the ensuing punishment. The emotion purge that results from the reality that blood begets blood or that if you rule by the sword you die by the sword is an essential premise that purges emotions. Macbeth also purifies emotions by indicating the consequences of having a desire to amass power at the expense of other people (Lundon N.p). The feelings that an audience would have in this case may involve a reflection on actions that do not necessarily reflect on power, but that derive a form of destructive desire capable of being destructive. The assertions are indicative of a purge of the emotions of the audience.
On the same note, when one assesses the eventual demise of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, the audience may show a purge of fear and trepidation as they reflect on the consequence of the couple’s action and the punishment that awaits them. The result is for allowing their unchecked ambition to have a more significant effect on the decisions they make. The use of catharsis enables the audience to develop a fear of murder because the consequence of death is capital punishment. The purpose of catharsis also allows the audience to reflect on the result of unchecked ambition and the possibility of such aspirations leading them towards destruction. The catharsis in the plot of Macbeth may also result from hubris. The entire plot is indicative of persona in Macbeth that is full of pride and overwhelming self-belief that he can achieve anything. The excessive pride eventually leads Macbeth towards an unprecedented demise.
The purge in emotion that Shakespeare introduces in the use of hubris is one that urges the audience to reflect on their flaws that may lead to their destruction (Cacciari 212). The purge, in this case, may apply in promoting humility and showing the consequence that fatal pride may have on people. The use of catharsis allows the audience to reflect on the reasons that lead to the demise and the destruction of the hero.
The third critical element in the Aristotelian presentation of a tragedy refers to the Anagnorisis, which in Greek initially relates to the recognition of a flaw as used in the Poetics and the inner desire to correct the mistakes committed in the course fulfilling personal desires (Heilman 13). The Anagnorisis may be the point at which the hero realizes the damage they have caused, and attempts to begin a shift from ignorance to knowledge. The use of this element in the play Macbeth, allows the audience to discover the point at which the hero realizes that he has been a failure. In the case of Macbeth, as the many murders he has committed begin to haunt him, he quickly reflects on his transformation and the things he had done in the quest to become king. The Lady Macbeth ultimately commits suicide out of the recognition that she had been an active decision maker in the actions that Macbeth takes in the course of the play.
Macbeth acknowledges that he will eventually die in a manner that confirms the apparent recognition of his wrongdoing and the fact that he must pay for his actions. The use of anagnorisis in the play has often been the subject of criticism as critics question the reason why Shakespeare allows the recognition of the misdeeds in the case of Macbeth to become observable late into the play and hence deeming the hero irredeemable. However, it is clear that this is an Aristotelian approach. The approach allows the hero to face the unprecedented downfall as a way of proving that hubris may lead to the previous fall of the most significant hero.
The evaluation of the lead character Macbeth as a tragic hero is incomplete without a calamity and the denouncement that completes the play. Aristotle in the poetics uses the catastrophe to indicate the denouncement that sums up a classical tragedy and the end of the tragic hero (Tarantelli 1484). The calamity in the play is, in fact, double drama, because Lady Macbeth commits suicide and the hero Macbeth falls into the hands of Macduff. The denouncement was initially set out as the point at which Macduff finally kills Macbeth. Shakespeare does an excellent job of presenting the tragic hero at the end of the play in the hands of Macduff who is, in fact, his most significant adversary.
Nevertheless, the plot complies with the Aristotelian structure of a tragedy by presenting the final denouncement in the play. The eventual emergence of Malcolm at the end of the illusory is the denouement that qualifies Macbeth as a tragic hero. The denouncement involves the declaration that the restoration of Scotland has begun since the tyrannical rule of Macbeth is over. The denouncement reckons that Macbeth had tuned Scotland from a peaceful kingdom to an environment filled with murder mayhem. In essence, those remarks summarize the once revered hero’s fall from grace and the tragic death of the previously courageous Scottish general.
Indeed, the play Macbeth may be deemed as a standard tragic plot where the main character or the lead protagonist moves from being a hero to a villain after a catastrophic end to their powers. The play uses the Aristotelian school of thought in the creation of a tragic hero. The play introduces pride and unchecked ambition as the tragic flaws that eventually lead to the hero’s dramatic fall. Shakespeare also incorporates aspects such hamartia, catharsis, peripeteia, anagnorisis and denouement to show the events that follow as the hero in the play Macbeth moves from being a revered general to a tyrannical king and is eventually killed due to his hubris that leads to him to kill any perceived enemy.
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