How is Macbeth a tragedy?
Shakespearean tragedies always have a noble, heroic central character. Normally we hear about from other characters before he actual enters into the play.
We are also, given the first impression of the greatness of the tragic hero through the eyes of others. “...But all’s too weak; for brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name); disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel, ...carved out his passage till he faced the slave; which ne’er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him till he unseamed him fro the nave to th’ chops, and fixed his head upon our battlements.”(9) The captain is not only the first one to mention Macbeth in the play but he also shows how heroic and brave Macbeth is.
Another vital part of a tragedy is that the main character will have a flaw in him that will later lead to his demise. In Macbeth his flaw is that he wants power. “ The Prince of Cumberland! That is a step on which I must fall down or else o’erleap, for in my way it lies. Stars hide your fires; let not light see my blank and deep desires. The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be which the eye fear, when it is done, to see.”(29) Having heard the prophecy that he will be king, Macbeth looks for ways to make it happen more quickly. We see both Macbeth\'s potential for greatness and his obsessive aspirations. He has vaulting ambitions and knows that Duncan and Malcom both stand in the way.
A sense of urgency develops with the plot and the conflict that not only creates tension, but also creates the effect of a kind of steam-rolling inevitability regarding the hero\'s fall that he has put into motion himself. “...Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er...”(109) With the death of Duncan Macbeth becomes involved in circumstances beyond his control. After he murders Banquo he has to continue to kill to stay in power. Though he could have stopped in the beginning had he not let Lady Macbeth talk him into the murder of Duncan.
After all that has happen Macbeth finally gains insight about himself and life. “...My way of life has fallen in to sere, the yellow leaf and that which should accompany old age, as honor, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have, but in their stead curses, not loud, but deep mothered honor, breath which the poor heart would fain deny and dare not-..”(171) He realizes that being king is not everything that he thought it was. He also realizes that he doesn’t have anything else to live for once his wife has died and the prophecies have come true but, he decides to fight bravely till the end.
At about this point in the play, the hero will realize the error that is bringing about his fall. He alone is to blame, he alone has erred, and has accepted it but it is too late. Once recognition occurs, death speedily follows. Usually, the hero will provide us with a particularly moving display of courage or at least nobility of heart .“ ...Lay on, Macduff, and damned be he that first cries “Hold! Enough!” (187) Macbeth does so by nobly fighting Macduff. With this kind of display, we are left with the feeling that indeed Macbeth was a monster who should have been destroyed, accompanied by a kind of melancholy recognition on our parts that he also had greatness in him: nobility, strength, courage. If only those qualities could have been re-directed--if only he hadn\'t made those mistakes. And we can say, good, he\'s gone-- but what a waste!