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Posted on August 21st, 2012, by

“Macbeth”¯ is acknowledged by most critics as one of the best plays of William Shakespeare; it is the shortest tragedy writing between 1603 and 1606 (Dukore, 111). The major themes the play are built on are the outcomes of longing for power at any price and betrayal of friends and moral principles. This play was said to have such mystical power, that a lot of actors, being afraid of its curse, would name it only “The Scottish play”¯.

Although Macbeth is always called a tragedy, in reality it doesn’t quite fit the definition of tragedy, as formulated by Aristotle in his imperishable Poetics. Aristotle put the definition of Tragedy as follows: “Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude; in language embellished with each kind of artistic ornament, the several kinds being found in separate parts of the play; in the form of action, not of narrative; with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its katharsis of such emotions”¦ Every Tragedy, therefore, must have six parts, which parts determine its quality””namely, Plot, Characters, Diction, Thought, Spectacle, Melody.”¯ (Belfiore, 13).

If to investigate in details all the integral parts of a tragedy based on Aristotle’s definition, we come to the conclusion, that Macbeth would not count as a tragedy for Aristotle. In spite of the fact, that the structure of the plot of Macbeth corresponds to that of Aristotelian tragedy, the depiction of the main hero still doesn’t. From the very beginning we meet a war hero, who seems to comply with Aristotle’s image of a tragic hero under the condition that we take into consideration the epoch, when the play was written, namely the Elizabethan era, because these were the times, when high ambitions were also highly regarded and defined one of the prime qualities of nobility.Ā  The tragic flow ”“ hamartiaĀ  – of the main hero is also related not to fate or combination of circumstances, but to his ambitious expectations.Ā  Thus, later Macbeth proves to be too evil for the Aristotelian tragic hero and becomes finally a murderer and a tyrant.

Aristotle stated, that “A perfect tragedy should be arranged not on the simple but on the complex plan. It should imitate actions which excite pity and fear, this being the distinctive mark of tragic imitation”¯ (Belfiore, 25). But we hardly would feel pity for the main hero, even when he lost his wife and was in despair, because the motifs and aims of his actions were from the very beginning egoistical and behavior – self-assured. He was determined to kill not because of love, hatred, jealousy or fear ”“ emotions, which are an integral part of a human being, but because of his desire to seize power. Finally, when Macbeth is killed in the battle, as the witches prophesied him, readers do not feel pity for him, rather there is a sensation, that he met his deserts. This is exactly why Aristotle was sure, that a tragic hero should be a good man, otherwise, his fall would never evoke sympathy and compassion of the readers.

Overall, based on the analysis of the main hero of the famous play ”“ Macbeth ”“ we can conclude that although it is often called a tragedy, it doesn’t correspond to the notion of tragedy as defined by Aristotle in Poetics.

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