Why is ‘Macbeth’ a tragedy? Why is Macbeth a tragic hero? A tragedy is not the same as a sad ending. In a tragedy, the hero is basically good but is destroyed by a fatal flaw and an external agent that comes into his or her life. Macbeth is a tragic hero. He is not a straightforward villain. At the beginning of the play he is seen as a hero because he has defeated the rebels in battle. The king rewards him with the title ‘Thane of Cawdor’. If Macbeth were just a ‘villain’, evil from the start, the play would not be so interesting. Macbeth’s fatal flaw is his capacity for violence and his inability to stand up to his wife and the witches. He is strong on the battlefield but weak when dealing with his emotions. The external agent that changes Macbeth’s life is the 3 witches. If he had not met the witches, or if his wife had not manipulated him, he would never have considered killing King Duncan. This is because … Macbeth becomes a villain one step at a time. We see this in the dagger speech, where his language becomes violent and murderous after he decides the dagger does not exist, ‘There’s no such thing.’ He then goes off to kill King Duncan. From this point he has lost his humanity. For instance… If Macbeth were just a straightforward villain, he would not be interesting to the audience. He is more complex than that, often expressing his doubts and fears through soliloquies. A soliloquy is a long speech in which the hero expresses his deepest thoughts out loud for the audience alone to hear. The speech is not addressed to any other character. Examples of Macbeth’s soliloquies are… The soliloquy is a key feature of a tragedy. It is an important way to enable the audience to identify with the tragic hero. Through the soliloquy, the tragic hero expresses universal feelings which are common to us all. Macbeth’s soliloquies are usually about fear and self doubt. These are feelings common to all human beings. So Macbeth is expressing feelings which we all have at some time in our lives. The tragic hero is a human being like ourselves and expresses our deepest feelings. But the tragic hero is also greater than ourselves and so is able to express these feelings more powerfully than we ever could. Other examples of tragic heroes are Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Eddie Carbone in A View From The Bridge, George in Of Mice & Men, Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. These are all characters who are good at the beginning but become villains by the end. What are their fatal flaws and what are the external agents that come into their lives? Because ‘Macbeth’ is a tragedy it is universal. This means that everyone, from every period of time, should be able to respond to it. For example, Macbeth is often played in modern dress. Macbeth could be played as the right hand man of a gangland boss, or as a modern dictator like Hitler, Stalin, or Saddam Hussein. Therefore, Macbeth is relevant to a 21st century audience. The play is about power, violence, ambition, good & evil, themes that never become out of date. ‘Macbeth’ is also a complex figure because we see the reasons why he becomes evil. It is a modern idea that people do evil things for a reason, or become evil because of their upbringing or their social situation. In Shakespeare’s time, Elizabethans often believed that people were simply born evil or were possessed by evil spirits. Also, the Elizabethans were worried about terrorism, assassinations, invasions, plots and conspiracies, just as we are. Guy Fawkes’ plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament took place around the time that ‘Macbeth’ was first performed.