Considering his actions throughout Macbeth, does Macbeth's character evoke pathos?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Pathos, together with ethos and logos, is a term used by Aristotle in describing characteristics. Pathos allows a person to appeal to someone's emotions and Macbeth has many instances of this. Macbeth, himself, wants audiences to understand his pain and respond to it through emotional support, having been persuaded that he deserves their sympathy. Lady Macbeth is able to persuade Macbeth through using pathos. He responds to it when she is so anxious for him to kill Duncan in order to further his "vaulting ambition" (I.vii.27), despite his own recognition of the potential for disaster but not wanting to disappoint Lady Macbeth, foreshadowing events that will follow:

We still have judgement here, that we but teach/ Bloody instructions, which being taught return/ To plague th' inventor" (8-10) 

The audience is aware of his conflict and that he is trying to resist, even deciding that "we will proceed no further in this business"(32). However, he cannot compete with Lady Macbeth's overpowering callousness and the audience feels sorry for him when she questions his masculinity: "When you durst do it, then you were a man"(49). The audience is aware that Macbeth is being manipulated. 

Macbeth is again shown to be vulnerable when, in his confusion, he brings the daggers back with him after Duncan's murder, implicating himself and convinced that "Macbeth does murder sleep" (II.ii.36). The audience watches Lady Macbeth again take control when Macbeth,almost in a panic, recognizes the extent of his actions and how "all Great Neptune's ocean" (60) cannot wash away his guilt. The audience is persuaded that he is not completely responsible for his actions as he is so influenced by Lady Macbeth.

After Banquo's murder, the audience is less inclined to feel pity for him or accept his anguish as he is now acting from his own standpoint. However, yet again, he stirs emotion through his delusions and pathetic attempt to rationalize his actions, even deciding to visit the "weird sisters" again. The audience sees his constant need to rely on others for reassurance.

At the end of Macbeth, Macbeth laments the death of Lady Macbeth,describing the futility of life as being , "a tale...signifying nothing" (V.v.28). He seems defeated but, instantaneously, resilient and determined to continue in his quest, more sorry that Lady Macbeth will miss his glorification than anything else. Despite being overwhelmed by his own misguided faith in his abilities, he does become aware of the extent of his problem. Blaming the witches, the "juggling fiends"(V.viii.19), the audience is aware of his inability to accept responsibility for his actions and is persuaded to feel sorry for him when he realizes how he has been manipulated and lost "my better part of man" (18). The true tragedy of his character is revealed as he knows he is defeated but "will not yield" (27).