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Macbeth: Tragic Hero or Not?

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Is Macbeth a Tragic Hero?

        A highly debateable topic, Macbeth’s motivation in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is often interpreted as not his own. As a general in Duncan’s army, Macbeth receives a mysterious prophecy saying he would take Duncan’s place as King. Enacting the message in his own way, Macbeth chooses to slay Duncan and his friend Banquo to achieve the crown. Macbeth is evidently a tragic hero as he succumbs to his own ambition; his actions are his alone, making him victim of his own choices.

        Although the witches’ prophesy spurred Macbeth into his actions, it was Macbeth himself who chose to give in to his ambition impatience. Firstly, the witches’ prophecy was not evil or commanding in nature. All the prophesy states is “Macbeth…shalt be king hereafter” (1.3.53). The prophecy just declares Macbeth shall become king, but Macbeth chose to interpret and act by personally fulfilling the prophecy. Rather than to wait for the prophecy to fulfill itself in time, Macbeth decides to take matters into his own hands, by killing Duncan in his bed. Macbeth even has a warning from Banquo, who tells him “the instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray us in deepest consequence” (1.3.133-135). Banquo himself tells Macbeth to tread carefully around the witches’ words, as they are known creatures of evil and often mislead people with their choices. Macbeth instead chooses to dwell upon the “horrid image…against the use of nature”, or the thoughts of murdering Duncan, clearly falling victim to his own impatience and desires (1.3.145, 147).

        Although Lady Macbeth does influence Macbeth, ultimately, it is Macbeth who makes all his decisions that lead to his doom. Despite Lady Macbeth’s quick reaction to goad Macbeth into killing Duncan, Macbeth is the first to think about this action, right after the witches’ deliver the prophecy. All Lady Macbeth does is tell Macbeth “[Duncan] must be provided for”, or in other words, Duncan must die, supportive words that reinforce Macbeth’s will to murder Duncan (1.5.74). Also, only Macbeth has schemes to kill Banquo, as Macbeth fears “[Banquo will] champion me to utterance” (3.1.76). Believing Banquo is going to usurp his rule, Macbeth hires murderers to ambush Banquo, a decision he came to by himself.  Furthermore, even after Lady Macbeth’s death, Macbeth simply comments “she should [die] hereafter,” clearly illustrating his resolve and limited influence from his wife (5.5.19).  His wife’s death has not deterred his actions, proving the choices he has made were his own and were never under much of an influence from his wife. Electing to commit to his own actions, this proves Macbeth is a victim of his own choices, rather than a victim to his wife’s.

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