Aristotelian Tragedy: Macbeth Aristotle is known widely for developing his ideas on tragedy. He recorded these ideas in his Poetics in which he comments on the plot, purpose, and effect that a true tragedy must have. The structure of these tragedies has been an example for many writers including Shakespeare himself. Many of Shakespeare’s plays follow Aristotelian ideas of tragedy, for instance Macbeth does a decent job in shadowing Aristotle’s model. Aristotle describes one of the most important elements of a tragedy to be a tragic hero. The tragic hero however must present certain qualities such as nobility and virtue.
In the play Macbeth, Macbeth is a perfect example of a tragic hero. Macbeth begins the play coming home from battle, he is said to have fought with great courage and King Duncan himself awards him the title of the thane of Cawdor in reward for his bravery. The qualities make Macbeth a tragic hero as he possesses not only a noble title, but also the assets of a great warrior and hero. However, Aristotle emphasizes that if the tragic hero was as perfect as he seems than the audience would not be able to identify with him and this would not be considered a tragedy.
Macbeth shows us his humanity very early in the play when he learns that Malcolm, Duncan’s son, will be the heir to the throne of Scotland. In response, Macbeth acknowledges that he himself should be awarded the crown and will not rest until royalty is his. Macbeth is an ambitious character, which is a quality that many humans can identify with. This ambitiousness is known as Macbeth’s tragic flaw. This leads to Aristotle’s next component of a tragedy, the tragic flaw. The hero’s tragic flaw must lead to the downfall of the character; his demise can be caused by no one other than himself.
Macbeth’s ambitious personality leads him to become caught up in attaining power for himself. Macbeth’s ruthless behavior causes him to commit murder to Duncan in order to gain kingship. Even after his wish comes true, he continues to sacrifice the lives of others, including his close friend Banquo, to assure that he never loses his throne. However, Macbeth does not go unpunished as he suffers countless dreams and illusions that drive him to insanity. The loss of his wife also brings Macbeth to his final denouement.
In the end, Macbeth is killed by Macduff; because of his arrogance he believed he was invincible even after being told his fate. Macbeth reaches his end through the same way he lived his life, through murder and deception. Many argue over the fairness of Macbeth’s life, but the goal of a tragedy in Aristotle’s view point is to strike fear and pity in the audience through harsh punishment upon the hero in extreme ways. Finally, Aristotle claims that in order for a tragedy to be effective, the fear and pity must be released from the audience through catharsis. First the tragic hero must gain some knowledge from his tragic life.
Macbeth shows this self-realization in his ‘yellow leaf’ soliloquy when he expresses remorse for his actions. Also, in the end he knows he must fight until the end whether his fate is death. At this point the audience is cleansed of the emotions of the plot and the tragedy is finished. Macbeth is a primary example of a typical Aristotelian tragedy. It follows the structure necessary from the tragic hero, to his downfall and ultimately to the catharsis necessary for an original Greek drama. The aspects of this play are a perfect example of the tragedies of that era.