Is Macbeth a bloody butcher or a tragic hero?

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kc4u | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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To say that Macbeth is a bloody butcher is to endorse Malcolm's final view of Macbeth and his wife-"the dead butcher and his fiend-like queen." Macbeth killed Duncan; murderers appointed by him killed Banquo, and the family of Macduff. Even then, we should not reduce him to a one-dimensional character--just a criminal/villain; we have gone through his soliloquies and asides from act 1 sc.3 till the very end of the play. We must have noted his divided self, his fears and agonies, the conflict between his "vaulting ambition" and his imaginative conscience. He has caused great sufferings to the people, and yet he himself has no less suffered. His reaction to the news of his partner's death and the ensuing deliberation  on the tragic futility of life--"a tale told by an idiot," it being "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing"--must be a memorable existentialist commentary. Macbeth is a great poet sadly counterpointed with uncontrollable desire. That is precisely the irony of the Renaissance man, the tragedy of being both "fair and foul."

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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Well from what we hear of Macbeth in Act IV Sc.3 he certainly could be described as "a bloody butcher."

In Act IV Sc. 3 Malcolm and Macduff  have arrived in England and they are about to have an audience with the King of England. They are seen in conversation just outside the King of England's palace. Both of them discuss the ever increasing tyranny and cruelty of Macbeth as he brutally destroys both Scotland and its people. Macduff  remarks sorrowfully:

each new morn
New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows
Strike heaven on the face, that it resounds
As if it felt with Scotland and yell'd out
Like syllable of dolour.

Malcolm remarks very tellingly that Macbeth is so cruel that as soon as one mentions his name that person's tongue gets scorched with blisters:

This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues,

A little later, Malcolm sums up Macbeth's character in the following lines:

I grant him bloody,
Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful,
Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin
That has a name.

This is proved true at the end of the scene when Ross reports to Macduff that Macbeth has slaughtered mercilessly his helpless wife and children,  leading us to agree with Macduff that even in hell there cannot be a more wicked devil:

Not in the legions
Of horrid hell can come a devil more damn'd
In evils to top Macbeth.

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