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The Tragedy of Macbeth
Nov 11, 2003 05:54 PM 23204 Views
(Updated Nov 11, 2003 05:54 PM)



“ Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more.”

These words signify the tragedy of Macbeth. It is a tragedy because Macbeth’s actions result in an extreme calamity leading to his downfall. There is a drastic change in his fortunes due to his own actions. He degenerates from a grand persona to a tyrant & finally meets with his end. Let us explore how it is a tragedy:

1) Macbeth as a victim of supernatural conspiracy: One of the important elements of a Shakespearian Tragedy is the supernatural element. It’s the witches who sow the seed of treason in Macbeth’s mind, though we do get a feeling that the thought of ‘replacing’ King Duncan was in his mind all the time. Later on they even give wrong information of his impending death. The Birnam wood does move to Dunsinane hill & Macduff who is ‘born of no woman’ does kill Macbeth who was snug due to the witches’ ambiguous prophesies. But the blame does not lie squarely on the witches, as it is Macbeth who ‘chooses’ to murder the king.

2) Macbeth as a victim of human soliciting: It is Lady Macbeth who actively encourages Macbeth to commit the ‘ghastly deed’. She challenges his masculinity with a battering of arguments & a Blitzkrieg of bitter & stinging words. Later she entices him by saying that the blame of the murder could be put on the king’s guards & so their crime won’t be discovered.

3) Macbeth’s imagination: Another aspect of Macbeth is his imagination. He sees daggers & apparitions & even hallucinates. E.g. when he sees the ghost of Banquo. It is his imagination, which keeps Macbeth from going insane unlike Lady Macbeth who was his accomplice in Duncan’s murder. Macbeth had imagination while he lacked a strong will. Lady Macbeth had a strong will but lacked in imagination. If Macbeth’s imagination had been supported by a strong will, he would have been a good & an honest man.

4) Macbeth as a tyrant: After Duncan’s murder, Macbeth would be expected to calm down. But he becomes a tyrant & the alcohol of power intoxicates him just as a man-eating tiger is intoxicated by human flesh & goes on a killing spree. He kills Banquo & wipes off Macduff’s family. But Macbeth becomes a tyrant out of desperation. He is on the look out for that last murder which would end all his problems. Utter chaos reigns in Scotland during his rule.

5) Macbeth’s isolation from self & physical reality: When Macbeth thinks of murder, he cannot relate to the idea. And when he commits the murder, he cannot accept it. This is his alienation from his own self. Also, all Macbeth wanted was ‘honour, love, obedience and troops of friends’ to accompany his old age. And what he gets in return is ‘curses; not loud but deep, mouth honour and breath, which the poor mind may fain deny, but dare not.’ After Duncan’s death he neglects his wife & on her death, he doesn’t display any grief, “ She should have died hereafter.” He loses people like Banquo by killing them. Some of the people leave him, “Let them all fly.”

6) Social ostracism: Macbeth suffers from social ostracism till the very end. He has to suffer alone. He is a lone figure among a crowd when he sees the ghost of Banquo. He becomes a suicidal solitary. His life becomes an instance of existential nihilism. He becomes a shadow of his grand self. Life becomes for him, “ A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

7) Death: At the time of his death Macbeth’s old virtue of a great warrior resurfaces; but he is tired of his life. He knows that he is a loser. Therefore it seems to us that he willingly embraces his death & his life comes to a very tame end. “ Nothing became of him than his death…”

Thus, we can conclude that Macbeth is a tragedy of a man excessively preoccupied with ambition & as a result, driven to alienation & nihilism. And we must hand it out to Shakespeare who proves that he indeed ‘taught humanity about human behaviour’.

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MacBeth - William Shakespeare