Is Macbeth a tragic hero according to the classical definition of the term or is he merely a monster? Does Shakespeare succeed in creating sympathy for Macbeth?

Written by W. Shakespeare around 1606 “Macbeth” has been one of the world greatest tragedies. Since then it is considered to be the work that reveals the anatomy of a human’s villainy and predicts the future moral fall of the person who deals with his conscience. By  the twentieth century, Shakespeare’s Macbeth had become “the sole origin of what might be called ‘Macbeth-discourse’…” and the play which “… famous lines and scenes … had entered the general cultural lexicon” (Carrol 2004).

As far as “The Tragedy of Macbeth” is believed as a classical tragedy the main hero is mainly viewed as a tragic one in the classical definition of the term: Macbeth’s sins are never forgiven, his downfall is very striking and the evil is badly punished, “…Macbeth is  a tragic protagonist”  (Bloom 2010, 1). But on the other hand, Macbeth is shown as “a great killing machine… a villain, a monster…” (Bloom 2010, 4) because in order to protect himself from suspicion, he has to kill more and more people.

The dilemma between regarding Macbeth a tragic hero or a monster is predetermined by the dualism of his personality: he is a noble man and a brave, devoted soldier on the one hand, and on the other – a weak-willed man, tempted by his ambitions, who can easily overstep the line between right and wrong. When Macbeth hears the prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland, Banquo, General in the King’s Army, warns him: And oftentimes to win us to our harm, The instruments of darkness tell us truths; Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s In deepest consequence. Still overcome by his ambitions and encouraged to action by his wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan and takes the throne for himself.

William Shakespeare shows the other side of Macbeth’s inwardness: he draws the images of the ghosts and creates the symbols connected with the murdered (‘the milk of human kindness”, etc.) to show Macbeth’s way to hell.
In such a way the author makes the reader feel the abyss into which Macbeth is falling cheated by the prophecies and realise the worthlesness of his ambitious fruits. Gaining power he loses the vestiges of humanity and gradually plunges into realm of madness.

Having created the image of Lady Macbeth who manipulates her husband in order to satisfy her own evil plans, William Shakespeare highlights the better sides of Macbeth’s personality: unlike his wife, Macbeth fights his misgivings and hesitations:

MACBETH: If we should fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking-place,
And we’ll not fail.

MACBETH: When we have mark’d with blood those sleepy two
Of his own chamber, and us’d their very daggers,
That they have don’t?
Who dares receive it other,
As we shall make our griefs and clamor roar
Upon his death?

Many times Shakespeare invites readers to feel pity for Macbeth and the utmost way of creating sympathy for the man is the author’s introduction of the ghosts of the murdered and their conversations with Macbeth. These talks prove that Macbeth is not a monster: he is the man with deepest remorses and the one who needs sympathy as far as the punishment is coming so soon.


Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations: William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  New Edition. Introduction  by Harold Bloom (2010). New York, Infobase Publishing.
Carroll, W. C. ‘Two truths are told’. Afterlives and Histories of Macbeths in Volume 57: Macbeth and its Afterlife (2004). pp. 69-80. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
Mabillard, A. Shakespeare’s Sources for Macbeth. Shakespeare Online (2000, Aug. 20). Retrieved from http: // >.”

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