The novel Macbeth written by William Shakespeare in 1606 tells of the story of a man who receives a prophecy from three witches that he will become the King of Scotland. He then becomes overcome with ambition and greed and commits many murders all in the hope of fulfilling this prophecy. The debate of whether Macbeth was a tyrant or tragic hero has been debated for centuries around the world. A tragic hero can be defined by many things. According to Aristotle a Greek philosopher and visionary of his time, he defines a tragic hero as someone who meets several specific traits. By analysing the actions and words of Macbeth we can easily tell Macbeth meets the criteria of an Aristotelian hero. A tragic hero is also a person who comes from a Noble status of which Macbeth is a Thane then king. Macbeths also is a tragic hero because he experiences a peripeteia, a final turning point in his story when he has no hope of turning back, of which occurs when Macbeth murders Duncan. In order to meet this criterion, they must have a fatal flaw which in Macbeths case is his raging ambition.
A vital part of a tragic hero is the presence of a hubris. A hubris is a fatal flaw that leads to one’s downfall. The hubris is Macbeths case is his excessive ambition of which is greatly encouraged by his wife and leads him to taking a violent path towards becoming King. Whilst Macbeth initially has no desire to ensure his kingship, “If chance will have me King, why, Chance may crown me,” he is deceived by his need for His desire for power and higher status which leads him to commit the many murders such as killing King Duncan in his sleep. By the end of the play Macbeth is responsible for killing many people all in the hope of protecting his kingship. It is this insatiable desire for power that corrupts his morals and cause him to abandon his moral duty and conscience which eventually lead to his downfall.
In order to a true Aristotelian hero you must come have great potential and come from noble status. A tragic hero must possess power, influence and authority. Early on in the play, Macbeth is established as being of great stature. In the beginning of the play Macbeth is presented a high-ranking officer in the Army of whom had just achieved great success in battle. We know of Macbeth’s success when Ross proclaims “The king hath happily reciev’d Macbeth, the news of thy success.” This tells us that Macbeths success has caught the attention and received appreciation from the King of Scotland. We also know that Macbeth is of nobility when he is dubbed Thane of Cawdor and Glamis. He has already earned the title of Thane of Glamis, and as prophesized by the three witches, soon takes the reign as the Thane of Cawdor. These titles indicate that Macbeth is of great political importance and is moving up in the ranks of Scottish nobility.
As part of Aristoteles definition of a tragic hero one must experience a peripeteia. A peripeteia is a moment in a play (or other work) that marks a major turning point for the tragic hero. Macbeth goes through a peripeteia after killing King Duncan. After this deed is done there is no going back. It causes an unexpected series of events to occur that are mostly beyond Macbeth’s control. We can tell that Macbeth knows that this is his turning point as he says “I am in blood, step’d it so far, that should I do no more returning were as tedious as go o’oer”. His words exclaim that after the crime he has to continue on the bloody path that he has set himself on. This action leads to the deaths of many others, as he becomes desperate and paranoid about ensuring that he remains King and no one knows of his initial murder.
Throughout the unfolding of events in the tragedy of Macbeth we see the change and development of Macbeths character. This is largely due to the manipulation from his wife and the witches and his “vaulting ambition”. We see Macbeth make many ill-fated choices that lead him down an evil and tumultuous path. It is clear to the viewer that Macbeths is a tragic hero, not a tyrant, as because he possesses a hubris, is part of the nobility and experiences a peripeteia. Macbeths peripeteia is his guilt shrouded choice to kill the innocent King Duncan in which are his finale actions before sealing his tragic fate. Macbeths fall from a nobleman and glorified war hero ensure that he meets the criteria of a tragic hero. The finale element of his character that ensures he is a tragic hero is his hubris which in Macbeths case is his unreasonable need for power. All of the elements combine to create the timeless tragic hero of Macbeth.