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MacBeth - Trajedy or Satire?
William Shakespeare wrote four great tragedies, the last of
which was written in 1606 and titled Macbeth. This "tragedy", as it
is considered by societal critics of yesterday's literary world,
scrutinizes the evil dimension of conflict, offering a dark and
gloomy atmosphere of a world dominated by the powers ofdarkness.
Macbeth, more so than any of Shakespeare's other tragic protagonists,
has to face the powers and decide: should he succumb or should he
resist? Macbeth understands the reasons for resisting evil and yet he
proceeds with a disastrous plan, instigated by the prophecies of the
three Weird Sisters. Thus we must ask the question:
If Macbeth is acting on the impulses stimulated by the prophecies of
his fate, is this Shakespearean work of art really a Tragedy?
Aristotle, one of the greatest men in the history of human
thought, interpreted Tragedy as a genre aimed to present a heightened
and harmonious imitation of nature, and, in particular, those aspects
of nature that touch most closely upon human life. This I think
Macbeth attains. However, Aristotle adds a few conditions.
According to Aristotle, a tragedy must have six parts: plot,
character, diction, thought, spectacle, and song. Most important is
the plot, the structure of the incidents. Tragedy is not an imitation
of men, but of action and life. It is by men's actions that they
acquire happiness or sadness. Aristotle stated, in response to Plato,
that tragedy produces a healthful effect on the human character
through a katharsis, a "proper purgation" of "pity and terror." A
successful tragedy, then, exploits and appeals at the start to two
basic emotions: fear and pity. Tragedy deals with the element of evil,
with what we least want and most fear to face, and with what is
destructive to human life and values. It also draws out our ability to
sympathize with the tragic character, feeling some of the impact of
the evil ourselves. Does Macbeth succeed at this level? Can the reader
feel pity and terror for Macbeth? Or does the reader feel that Macbeth
himself is merely a branch from the root of all evil and not the poor,
forsaken, fate-sunken man, according to Aristotle's idea of tragedy,
he is supposed to portray? Can the reader "purge" his emotions of
pity and fear by placing himself in the chains of fate Macbeth has
been imprisoned in? Or does he feel the power and greed upon which
Macbeth thrives, prospers, and finally falls? I believe the latter is
the more likely reaction, and that the reader sees Macbeth as a bad
guy, feeling little or no pity for him.
Aristotle also insists that the main character of a tragedy must
have a "tragic flaw." Most tragedies fail, according to Aristotle,
due to the rendering of character. To allow the character to simply be
a victim of unpredictable and undeserved calamities would violate the
complete, self-contained unity of action in the tragedy. If that is
so, and if we assume that the group of three witches is a realistic
possibility, then is not Macbeth such a victim? Does he really deserve
the misfortune that is brought him by his fortune? After all, Macbeth
is introduced to the reader as an honest and humble leader. His fate,
once having been revealed to him, drives him to greed, elevates his
lust for power, and coins a conceited and misguided trust in his
seemingly eternal mortality. Diction, the expression of the meaning in
words, is near perfect in Macbeth, simply because it is written by
William Shakespeare, the inventor of perfect diction. Thought-the task
of saying what is possible and pertinent in the circumstances of
the play-can not be disputed. Spectacle and Song are the effects that
highlight the play, and are pertinent in providing an emotional
attraction. Such elements are easily found in Shakespeare. Macbeth is
written with the style and grace that only Shakespeare could provide.
Thus, these elements of tragic drama can not be challenged in this
While we need to consider that Macbeth strives on power, and in
doing so loses his values of humility and humanity, it should not be
forgotten that Macbeth does, at certain times, feel remorse for things
he has done.
In Act 2, Scene 2, Macbeth confides in
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Characters in Macbeth, English-language films, British films, Regicides, House of Moray, Macbeth, Macduff, Three Witches, Banquo, Malcolm, Gruoch of Scotland, Dunsinane Hill
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