Shakespeare’s Tragic Protagonist Macbeth is a Study of the Evil that is in Every Human Heart: Ambition



What is true to the action of a tragedy is also true to the tragic protagonist for according to Aristotle, both must be ‘spondaious’: be brave, noble, and Solemn. The tragic protagonist has neither the unblemished goodness nor the unmitigated villainy. He is to Aristotle, the intermediate kind of personage, a man not preeminently virtuous of just, whose misfortune is brought upon him not by vice but by ‘some error of judgment’. Now we will judge Shakespeare’s Tragic Protagonist Macbeth's character in these perspectives. 


The tragedy of Macbeth is a penetrating, concentrated, and harrowing study of the ambition of Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth. Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a study of the evil that is in every human heart and of one man’s downfall as he willfully gives way to its temptations. Macbeth is no Iagos who is out and out wrecked and villainous falling far short of the requirements of tragic hero. The fall of Iago like other bad man, does never arouse our pity and terror nor does it awaken in us a sense of waste. Macbeth , on the other hand , appears apparently a villain at heart and a ‘dead butcher’ in his cruel deeds but the living conscience and the sensibility of a poet that lurk within all squalor , nobody misses to mark. A.C Bradley Says, “A Shakespearean tragedy may be called a story of exceptional calamity leading to the death of a man in high state”. Macbeth is Bradley's ‘a man in high state’, not only for his valour and bravery, Shakespeare depicts the character of Macbeth with fitful glimpses of Macbeth’s past glory.

We are prepared for the advent of Macbeth by hearing of his valour on behalf of his king, first against the Western MacDonald, whom he slays, and then against the Norwegian Invader. Next comes Rosse, with tidings of the treachery of Cawdor, in combination, against Scotland, with Sweno; and Macbeth is raised to the honoured thanedom forfeited by the traitor, who is doomed to die. Thereupon, a host of epithets flourishes upon his grandeur and greatness. He is ‘valor’s minion, ‘brave’ and ‘noble’. The glorification of Macbeth is at its peak as Shakespeare describes him the king’s ‘valiant cousin’ , a very ‘eagle’ among the ‘sparrows’ and a 'lion' among the 'hares' .




Macbeth, the mighty man comes out dashing by saving Scotland from an imminent crisis. Yet, Macbeth like all Shakespearean heroes is not ‘strong’ but ‘weak’. Macbeth, the main prop of the state can not but dream for the crown. There comes a volcanic eruption in his ‘vaulting ambition’, already in Macbeth, soon after the fretful meeting of the weird sisters. He assassinates Duncan but feels himself insecure. To make himself secure and safe, he murders right and left those who prove thorns to his authority. The whole of Scotland begins to bleed-

“Each new morn,
New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows
Strike heaven of the face.”
Transfixed by the horror of his crime and the power that it promises, Macbeth consciously rejects the possibility of repentance, salvation, and an eternal future for the man that he has been—he chooses to know himself no longer, but instead to “know” only the deed and the power it will bring, and so he becomes the very embodiment of his crime: the bloody, usurping tyrant. Ultimately Macbeth brings about his own downfall, deliberately yielding himself to the destiny suggested by his prophetic encounter with the witches—fleeting kingship and eternal damnation. The gulf between honourable zeal and hungry greed of power may be as deep as hell, but it is easily stepped over by the soul once it allows the light of tempting promises to lure it on. He gets involved in a warfare, first, with his better self, and then with invincible Destiny. Crime after crime tries to block the purposes of heaven, but Justice sweeps them altogether in at the door of his life at last. It is the Tragedy of Jealousy guided to awful acts by entire absence of scruple, by boastful self-dependence, and audacity measuring its strength against God.

George Meredith emphasizing the responsibility of the hero to bring his own ruin and dismissing the role of villain says, “Passion spins the plot and we are tethered by what is falls within.” In Shakespeare too, what drags the hero down to suffering and a death is not being Fate or Destiny but simply the ‘corruption at heart.’ The evil which makes tragedy springs not from the lust of the flesh but from the last of power. The callous cruelty that the lust of power begets not only horrifies Shakespeare but also it amazes him. Macbeth also is not a hero but a villain who responds to dictate of the demon in him. The weird sisters’ prophesy works magic in him and allures him to be the future king of Scotland. However, Macbeth, if he is prone to the workings of evil, he works everywhere with pre-scrutiny. Before the murder, his conscience pricks him and he decides, “It chance will have me kill, why chance they crown me / without any stir. “the best in Macbeth is drawn in the ensuing soliloquy where he weighs more the moral values involved in his act that its political consequences . He did not want to hold the knife himself. As it is seen, Macbeth is not evil but he is dragged to it. He announces after, “We sill proceed no further in this business “for, he is conscious always of the wickedness of his act which he describes, ‘a terrible feat.’ He is a villain but his villainy deals with evil which is pre-contemplated. Macbeth is more to be sympathized than to be hated because his ‘bloody business’ has gone a good deal deeper into his moral being. It has already shivered his ethical frame. In total self-derision he speaks out- “To know my deed, it were best not know myself. Wake Duncan with thy knocking! I would thou couldst conscience is alive thus even in the ‘abhorred tyrant’ and the ‘dead butcher.’
It has been said that Shakespeare always thought of people much above the average level of humanity. Othello is a General, Lear is a King, Hamlet is a Prince and Macbeth is also seen first as a General and then a King. However, such a criticism has hardly a sound footing because Shakespeare deals with the kings and the princes out of a dramatic necessity. He deliberately keeps them at a height because for a fall to occur there is the need of a certain height. Moreover, the fall of a common man is so mediocre that it does not stir our tarn emotions of pity and fear whereas the nightly fall of mighty man Macbeth is momentous to do that. Macbeth, in spite of all cruel vistas is of full milk of human kindness. He is sensitive to the core, at once shaken violently with the thought of the murder before and after. Indeed. He looks before he leaps. The deed is done but he bleeds within. His tortured conscience hounds him without allowing him any peace, solace, rest and repose. A sense of despair seizes him- the drop of blood in his hand will not be washed by all the water of the ocean, his blood-stained hands will rather make the green sea red. More we pity him the less, he is pitied- “More is his due than more than all can pay.”
Like other bad men do which never arouse our pity and terror nor does it awaken in us a sense of waste. Macbeth , on the other hand appears apparently a villain at heart and a ‘butcher’ in his cruel deeds but the living conscience and the sensibility of a poet that lurk within all squalor , nobody misses to mark.
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