Is it possible to argue that Macbeth is the villain of the play and Banquo or Macduff are its heroes?
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Hmmm, not if you want to stick to the general definition of a tragic hero which is, loosely, that the tragic hero is generally a good person who, through a tragic flaw, exerts his own downfall and realizes it too late in that epic moment of catharsis to end the story with a note of hope. Macbeth would fit this definition exactly.
Banquo and Macduff are lesser characters who were good from the outset. How boring! Ha!
I love akannan's line, "Yet, I don't think that is Shakespeare's driving force." Exactly. Lady Macbeth is the villain, not Macbeth. Certainly there are other "heroic" characters none of which can be deemed the actual "hero." To suggest anything else is to degrade ourselves into a Mighty Mouse-esque type of hero that is unbecoming of Shakespeare. Let's not insult our grandest writer of literature.
I think that Shakespeare was aware of the need for Banquo to be shown in a positive light as the present king was a direct descendant of Banquo. Macbeth is still th eprotagonist as the drama shows his change from a loyal subject and brave warrior to paranoid mass murderer as a result of interference from 'the instruments of darkness'. Macbeth was a hero, though cruelly used and misled to become the villain.
It is not uncommon for the protagonist to morph into someone who can't relate to during the course of a story. In this case, Macbeth does turn into a bloodthirsty fiend. You could argue that he becomes a villain, but he is still the protagonist of the story.
I think that this works if one is examining the throne of Scotland as the primary issue of the drama. In this sense, then Macbeth is the antagonist. Yet, I don't think that is Shakespeare's driving force. I don't see this as a primary work of history or politics, as much as a statement on human beings. Shakespeare seems to be using Macbeth to display the level to which power can be a corrupting force. He wishes to explore the moral depravity that exists within individuals when the need to covet something becomes beyond one's control. The downwards spiral of evil and the entrance into a moral abyss are extremely important to the drama. At the same time, the role reversal between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth helps to bolster this idea that there is an analysis of culpability within individuals more than there is an exploration of the throne. At the same time, Macbeth's obsession with the witches and the appropriation of the world in accordance to his own subjectivity help to acquire a greater significance to the drama than who becomes ruler of Scotland. I think that in these elements, in seeking to understand human nature, and in carving out a character that represents human bleakness, Shakespeare makes Macbeth the hero of the play. His heroism is not the focus, as much as his the mirror he holds to us, the reader and the audience, in assessing how close we are to the vision we are reading/ seeing.
In the play Macbeth, ultimately there is one protagonist and one antagonist. In the beginning these two are very similar in many aspects including rank, leadership, beliefs, and loyalties. But at the story continues. It reveals these two characters are as different as night from day. Macbeth and Macduff were high-ranking generals in the Scottish army and were both loved and respected greatly by the King. The King even appointed Macbeth to become the Thane of Cawdor, a rank very similar to a prince not related by blood. Macbeth won many battles and Macduff did also. But when Macbeth was promised by three witches to become King, he took his destiny into his own hands and attempted to speed up the process. He murdered the King and this became known as the turning point in Macbeth's moral nature and loyalties.
Soon, Macbeth was killing people left and right unrelentlessly.
Macbeth is surely a villain in the garb of a hero but in the truer sense of the word Macduff is the hero. but once again if we keep definition and criterion set by Aristotle that a tragic hero suffers from a tragic flaw Macbeth emerges a HERO with a flaw and circumstances beyond his control like Dr. faustus he has sold his life for the throne , and in his case his wife is playing the role of a Mephestophiles.
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