Is Macbeth a Tragic Hero Essay

Date:  2022-01-04 18:32:03
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A tragic hero and a villain are two different characters as depicted in the literature based on their character. A tragic hero is a character with either a protagonist or an antagonist character but can attract empathy from the audience. A tragic hero attracts empathy from the audience given the experiences or actions of the character. A villain is an antagonist who has ill or evil motives on other characters, and a villain is devoted to causing pain, fear, and misery on other characters (Linnebank 5). The tragedy Macbeth by Shakespeare depicts Macbeth as a hero amongst his people and a recognized soldier by King Duncan. In the same play, Macbeth is portrayed as a villain who plots against his king and friends causing them fear and death. This essay will assess whether Macbeth is a tragic hero or a villain depending on his actions towards those close to him.

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Being a tragic hero or a villain character significantly depends upon the actions of a character in a play. A tragic hero takes the form of a protagonist and an antagonist, but their behavior towards the common good of the people and those close to him is given credit for doing good. An antagonist can be deemed as a tragic hero if at the end of the play the character can achieve greater good despite the character's negative plotting. On the other hand, a protagonist can be said to be a tragic hero if despite living to do good and to show high fidelity to friends and for their actions at the end are inspired by selfishness, anger, and brutality against other characters (Berquist, James 106). Therefore, due to the actions of the character, the audience can empathize with the character by being aware of the positive contributions of the character.

Macbeth at the end of the play is consumed by greed and ambitions which are sparked by witches who give Macbeth a prophecy that he was going to be the king of Scotland (Berquist, James 109). Despite initial denial and show of loyalty towards King Duncan the schemes by Lady Macbeth to assassinate the king are unstoppable. Lady Macbeth creates a scheme, and despite being reluctant, Macbeth goes forward with the plan and assassinates the king to get his throne (Berquist, James 116). Macbeth's new vicious and villain nature does not stop there as he goes forward to plot against Banquo, his friend and a former general in King Duncan's army. Although leading his people towards victory against internal rebels and foreign aggressors such as the Norwegians, Macbeth betrays his kinship with King Duncan for his throne and power which makes him a villain.

Macbeth as a Tragedy Hero

Macbeth, in the beginning, is a heroic character and a loyal servant to his King who leads the military to protect his people and earn glory for the king. Macbeth can be quoted saying "The service and the loyalty I owe, In doing it, pays itself. Your highness part is to receive our duties, and our duties are to your throne and state .."(Shakespeare, William, and Samuel Thurber 20). As a Scottish general, Macbeth emerges victorious without any selfish ambition of usurping the throne. This depicts the heroic nature of Macbeth due to his devotion towards fighting for his king and defending his country. Being a general of valor, Macbeth is honored by his comrades, and the country is grateful towards his heroic leadership. The initial character and activities undertaken by Macbeth shows great ambition for the good of the people and to impress his king. As a respected general of the Scottish army, Macbeth is recognized by the people and the leaders for his noble contribution towards fighting for his kingdom. Therefore, Macbeth is viewed as a hero due to his positive contribution to the safety of his country and the soldiers he led to victory. Macbeth's heroic contribution to the King of Scotland is depicted when he defeats Macdonald, a rebel against his King, and also he valiantly leads the king's army against King Sweno of the Norwegians. Through his military leadership, King Duncan himself recognized the bravery of Macbeth. In the end, King Sweno surrenders and Macbeth is recognized by the king when Cawdor is executed, and the title is given to Macbeth. Macbeth and general Banquo are both compared to eagles and lions as they pursue the Norwegians.

Lady Macbeth is behind Macbeth's villain character at the end of the play by sparking an uncontrollable desire for power and to hold on power after assassinating King Duncan. After the victory, Macbeth meets the three witches who tell him that he is destined to be the King. Macbeth does not entertain the idea and vows to remain loyal to his king. Macbeth achieves the title of Thane of Cawdor and Glamis through his hard work as a soldier and loyalty to King Duncan which makes him content. However, when the witches introduce the prospect of becoming the king of Scotland Macbeth changes which makes it possible for Lady Macbeth to convince Macbeth to kill King Duncan for his throne. Although Macbeth could have been able to dismiss the witches for his love of his family and the country he was not able to guard himself against the schemes of his wife. Macbeth says by Sinel's death I know I am Thane of Glamis, but how of Cawdor? The Thane of Cawdor lives" (Shakespeare, William, and Samuel Thurber 7) which indicates his loyalty and previous conviction as a servant of King Duncan. Lady Macbeth manages to convince her husband to dethrone the king after the King names his son as the heir to the throne of Scotland.

Macbeth becomes a tragic hero in the play because despite his previous loyalty and his love of the country he is led astray to become a vicious and ambitious man who kills his friend and the King for the throne. The powerful forces of nature appear in the form of the three witches and Lady Macbeth who can develop discord and bloody ambition for what belongs to King Duncan and the rightful heir. Macbeth's ambition grows more vicious when he not only takes the throne but also betrays his friend Banquo and even goes on to execute his entire family for being afraid that Banquo's descendants will take his throne in accordance to the witches prophecy. Macbeth is horrified by his actions as he says Ill go no more: I am afraid to think of what I have done (Shakespeare, William, and Samuel Thurber 50). Lady Macbeth bears significant influence on Macbeth's betrayal of the King, and despite Macbeth opposition, Lady Macbeth goes ahead to plan for the assassination of the King at Macbeth's castle.


Macbeth is a tragic hero in Shakespeare's Macbeth due to the previous inclination and achievements of the character as the general in King Duncan's army. Macbeth shows a high level of devotion to his country and family. Besides, King Duncan is aware of Macbeth's valor as a general who overcomes King Sweno and also quells a local rebellion. Despite Macbeth's devotion to the king, the witches plant a seed of ambition which is further nurtured by Lady Macbeth to kill the King for the throne. Macbeth appears remorseful and regretful of his actions afterward which makes him a tragic hero in Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Works Cited

Berquist, James. "Macbeth as Tragic Hero: A Defense and Explanation of Macbeth's Tragic Character."

Linnebank, L. The Contemporary Tragic Hero. BS thesis. 2015. P. 5

Shakespeare, William, and Samuel Thurber. Macbeth. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1896. Print.

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