There is a differencebetween a tragic hero and an epic hero. A tragic hero comes from a noble birth,but is not necessarily held to a higher standard by society. Since there is nostructure on how this hero should be viewed by commoners, this “hero”unfortunately has a flaw which ultimately brings them to their tragic downfall,forcing them to accept the consequences that follow. An epic hero, on the otherhand, is known to be charismatic, noble, brave, and admired for great achievementfrom their grand events.
Both an epic hero and a tragic hero are similardespite their major differences about morality and overall goals. Macbeth, the maincharacter in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth,is a tragic hero. Whereas, Beowulf, the main character in Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, is an epic hero. The tragicplay of Macbeth and the epic poem of Beowulf share the literary concept ofhaving the hero as the protagonist.
Although the two stories were written indifferent time periods, the context shares many similarities as well asdifferences. Macbeth and Beowulfboth hold traits of being overly confident, which is seen through theiractions. Although the two share this similarity, they approach gaining higherpower and personal challenges in a manner of impulsivity that is unique totheir respective character.
Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor, and Beowulf, Thane ofGeats, both can thank their overconfidence for the titles they obtain. Beowulf,from the beginning, was able to hold his title as king because he is consideredto be proud, fearless and overall a good warrior. Macbeth uses outside help,the witches, and his cunningness to trick everyone and this makes him overconfidentand boastful. Beowulf has always been the stronger of the two given the fact hedeveloped his confidence as a young boy, whereas Macbeth only gained hisconfidence after he assassinated King Malcolm and was able to get away with it.Needless to say, both believed their life was untouchable and could never betaken away, but eventually this overconfidence was the ultimate reason for theirdemise.
Macbeth has manycharacter traits that amplify his flaws – he has a large sense of ambition,pride,imagination and insecurity as a man that contributes to his end. Hisunnaturally large amount of ambition is even acknowledged by himself in Act 1Scene 7: “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaultingambition which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’other..
“. This scene refers toMacbeth’s motivation to kill Duncan, who is the King . Macbeth’s ambition isthe central force for almost all of his actions in the play, and the witches playon this ambition. Macbeth’s insecurity isanother one of his character flaws. Macbeth can “prove” his manliness on thebattlefield easily; however, Lady Macbeth’s knowledge of Macbeth’s lack ofmanliness in other areas allows her to easily manipulate Macbeth to kill theking. In Act 1 Scene 7, after Macbeth makes the tentative decision not to killDuncan, Lady Macbeth starts to question Macbeth’s manhood by stating, “When youdurst do it, they you were a man.
” Lady Macbeth then continues to taunt Macbethleading Macbeth to question what would happen if they fail and Lady Macbethcontinues to bring him down by stating that she will make the plan and takecare of the murder. From the moment thatMacbeth decides to live a lie in Act 1 Scene 7 “False face must hide what falseheart doth know,” the audience knows he has condemned himself. They know his thoughtsin the soliloquy earlier in the same scene (Act 1 Scene 7, Lines 1-28) willcome true – the killer is damned for eternity and the killer will be killed.The audience immediately feels a pang of pity for the once valiant man, now soobviously on a trail of self-destruction. Beowulf on the otherhand, thrives from his characteristics of bravery, loyalty, honor, andstrength. He is a man who is willing to risk his life for his people as well asthe greater good, which is a trait that Macbeth is not able to relate to. Thecharacteristics that Beowulf shows are exemplified further in Beowulf’s greatdeeds.
When Beowulf agrees to fight Grendel, a monster who has already beenbeaten up by countless numbers of men, Beowulf’s success in killing Grendeldisplays how his strength and bravery make him a hero and how he puts the safetyof his people before his own. Beowulf also showed heroism and courage when hedecided to go to Hrothgar’s kingdom despite hearing horrific stories about thedamage that Grendel was causing. He not only puts himself in danger but he alsochose to put himself in an unfamiliar environment to bravely face a horrendous monster.His epic heroism does not end there though, he ultimately sacrifices his entirelife as he fights a dragon with the final intention of protecting his ownkingdom. Something that Macbeth would not be able handle due to hisselfishness.
Therefore, Macbeth andBeowulf both have a striking amount of overconfidence that both leads them toput themselves in difficult situations that lead them to make impulsivedecisions. Although it can be interpreted that Beowulf is more of a conquerorthan Macbeth, both characters live up to their literary definition of hero. It isclear to understand that the mistakes that these two characters have made ledthem to their successes as well as their major flaws.
Without these personalityflaws, both Beowulf and Macbeth would not have been able to die surrounded inwhat makes them unique to their books.