Macbeth - Tragedy


William Shakespeare is the noted author of a vast array of plays, ranging from comedies to histories to tragedies. Perhaps one of his most famous in the tragedy genre is Macbeth. Though Shakespeare can be considered as a scholar in the sense that he was both a renowned and prolific playwright, look back a few hundred years to find Aristotle, one of the most famous scholars and philosophers of all time. In his treatise titled Poetics, he defends poetry against criticism as well as sets standards for tragedies in "The Nature of Tragedy," a section of the Poetics. Is Macbeth fit to be included in the tragedy genre according to the standards set by Aristotle?

According to Aristotle, a tragedy is "an imitation of an action that is serious, complete, and of a certain magnitude." It also should "excite pity or fear" in the spectator. An important concept of tragedy is that of "katharsis" or "purgation". By that, Aristotle means that the spectators feel for the characters onstage, and in doing so, undergoes a so-called "cleansing of the soul." Though the concept of katharsis is increasingly important in the play, there are six specific elements that make up a tragedy; without them, there would be no play and no katharsis. Of the six, which include plot, character, thought, diction, song, and spectacle, the first two are the most important.

The most important aspect of tragedy is the plot, which is considered to be "the soul of a tragedy." The plot of Macbeth is complex, meaning that it contains Recognition and Reversal of the Situation. Macbeth believes that every man is of woman born, and thus he cannot be killed by anyone. "Thou losest labor./ As easy mayest thou the intrenchant air/ With thy keen sword impress as make me bleed./ Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests./ I bear a charmed life, which must not yield/ To one of woman born."

This is a scene that contains Recognition; it is when Macbeth realizes that another of the witches' prophecies are coming true as well as the fact that he has to yield. Once Macbeth establishes himself to be invincible, Macduff tells him that he is not of woman born. "Despair thy charm!/ And let the angel whom thou still hast served/ Tell thee Macduff was from his mother's womb/ Untimely ripped."

In a way, there is also a Reversal of the Situation in that particular action. Macbeth enters the situation beliving that he will triumph over Macduff, but by Macduff revealing his true birth, he produces the opposite effect. Now Macbeth has to accept that fact that he will yield, and in doing so, dies. Another part of the plot is the Scene of Suffering, which is "a destructive or painful action." In the case of Macbeth, the Scene of Suffering could be the bloody murder of Duncan by Macbeth.

As stated in "The Nature of Tragedy," the change in fortune should be from good to bad rather than from bad to good. Although the sequence of events that occur throughout Macbeth may not appear to document a change in fortune from good to bad, they all constitute of a change because it shows Macbeth's moral downfall. Also, according to Aristotle, the misfortune should be brought by the character's own error or frailty. In the case of Macbeth, the frailty that brings about his misfortune and eventual destruction is ultimately ambition.

Another important aspect of a tragedy is character. In his Poetics, Aristotle says that "first and most important, it must be good." Macbeth's character in Macbeth is not exactly the portrayal of an ideal man, but he is not the worst man either. He may appear to be wicked and corrupt throughout the play, but he is actually portrayed as a relatively good man in the beginning of the play. At the start of the play, he possesses valor and bravery in the war and Duncan considers him to be honorable. "What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won."

The second thing is propriety. In a way, Lady Macbeth's character can be deemed inappropriate because she possesses more strength than Macbeth, as well as the fact that she is amazingly clever. She is able to manipulate Macbeth into murdering Duncan; he has his fears, but Lady Macbeth is the one that sways him to his decision. "From this time/ Should