Sketch the character of Macbeth.

Or. Discuss ‘Macbeth as a tragic hero’.
Or. Macbeth is a tragedy of ambition, discuss.


Answer: Macbeth is a tragic hero and the tragic flaw in him is his ambition. It is ambition which brings about his downfall. He has grandeur which Shakespeare’s tragic heroes usually possess. The defect in Macbeth’s character is his excessive ambition, an excessive desire to attain the kingship which the witches have prophesied for him.

Macbeth is a military general of extraordinary power. As a warrior, he has covered himself with glory in putting down a rebellion and defeating the foreign invaders. He is a man who inspires fear and admiration in us at the beginning. He is even favorite to Duncan, the king. But the manner in which Macbeth reacts to the prophecies of the Witches is a clear indication that he has secretly been harboring an ambition to become the king. The thought of kingship so engrosses him that in an aside he clearly reveals the means which have occurred to him for attaining that position. However he is able to subdue this thought for the time being.

The problem arises in Macbeth when Duncan announces the nomination of Malcolm as the heir to the throne. Macbeth in an aside reveals his ambition still at work in his mind. He realizes the difficulty that has unexpectedly arisen in his way. With the realization of this difficulty comes the thought of the only possible means to the kingship, namely the assassination of Duncan; and that is why in this soliloquy Macbeth calls upon the stars to hide their light so that his ‘black and deep desires’ do not become visible.

When Macbeth returns home and his wife too speaks to him of the assassination of Duncan as the means to attain the kingship, he shows a non-committal attitude by saying , ‘we will speak further‘. This means that he is in a state of indecision. A little later, he reveals in a soliloquy what is going on in this mind. He considers the contemplate crime both from the practical point of view and the moral point of view. At this stage, lady Macbeth plays a decisive role. She launts him on his lack of courage and on not loving her well enough to be able to carry out a task which he had undertaken. She speaks to him with such intense feeling and she uses such forceful language that Macbeth is overwhelmed and agrees to carry out the task.

The murder of Duncan is the first and most serious step towards Macbeth’s self-damnation. By murdering Duncan, Macbeth has strangled his conscience. However it does not dry out totally. Macbeth’s mobility to utter the word ‘Amen’ at the end of the brief prayer, his hearing a voice asking him not to sleep are signs of the keen sense of guilt committed by him. It makes him unhappy. The sound of a knocking at the door appeals him. The blood on his hand, he thinks, cannot be washed away by all the water of the ocean; this blood on the contrary can redden all the ocean water. In fact Macbeth experiences an acute mental torment just after committing the murder.
Character of Macbeth

Having taken the road of self-damnation, Macbeth is unable now to stop. Realizing the danger from Banquo, and thinking of the prophecy that the throne will eventually pass to the descendants of Banquo, Macbeth hatches a conspiracy against that man and has him murdered. Only a little later, he tells his wife about his apprehensions with regard to Macduff. He also tells her that he will go to the weird sisters in the very next day to know something more about his future. He feels that now it is too late for him to retrace his footsteps because he has already gone too far on the road of evil.

His first act after returning from this meeting with the witches is to order the slaughter of Macduff’s family, an act which shows Macbeth to be a ruthless and unscrupulous criminal. He has become so hard-hearted that even the news of his wife’s death leaves him unmoved. He also now realizes the futility of his life. His only concern is now personal safety of which he feels confident because of the promises of the witches. Soon he discovers ‘the equivocation of the friend’ and finds that, with Birnam wood moving towards Duncinane, he cannot rely on those assurances. Finally he meets his end at the hands if Macduff who was not born of a woman in the normal sense.

One thing that must be acknowledged is that Macbeth differs from other Shakespearean tragic-heroes like Hamlet and Othello. Those heroes do not lose our admiration till the end because their essential nobility of character do not suffer any diminution at any state. Their death commands our pity and fear. As for Macbeth, he certainly retains some of our sympathy but he forfeits our admiration after the middle of the play because of his criminal deeds. Nevertheless it is shocking that a man like Macbeth, with such potentials falls prey to ambition and meets the tragic end