How is tragedy developed in Macbeth? (PLEASE use lines from the book to explain how the play is a tragedy according to the lines that you are giving me.) This explanation will include how Macbeth...

How is tragedy developed in Macbeth? (PLEASE use lines from the book to explain how the play is a tragedy according to the lines that you are giving me.)

This explanation will include how Macbeth is a tragic hero, or another character is also tragic, and what tragic flaws he/she has with explanation.

Thanks for the help.  

Asked on by cassie606

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I.  Viewed as a literary work of its age, Shakespeare's Macbeth is primarily developed as a play in which the relations between natural and supernatural, good and evil, and between masculine and feminine are all interconnected, affecting each other. Moreover, in Macbeth these relations are further complicated by Shakespeare as they become ambiguous for the sake of tragic entanglement. Certainly, "Nothing is what is not" and "Fair is foul and foul is fair" are motifs of this play, and they take on tragic meaning within the framework of the Elizabethan Chain of Being in which each element of the universe has a proper place.

For Macbeth, the lines between the supernatural and the natural become blurred as he feels compelled by his "vaulting ambition" (see his soliloquy in 1.7) to accelerate the predictions of the "weird sisters" by killing King Duncan after Duncan has designated his son Malcolm as the future king. As his partner, Lady Macbeth spurs Macbeth in this act of regicide and, in so doing, blurs the lines between masculine and feminine. After his act of murder, Macbeth is plagued with guilt and shaky, so Lady Macbeth assumes the dominant role:

                          ...Infirm of purpose!
Give me the dagger. The sleeping and the dead
Are but as pictures....

My hands are of your color, but I shame
To wear a heart so white. (2.2.52-65)

These last two lines also exemplify the blurring of good and evil as Lady Macbeth feels shame that Macbeth is seemingly a coward while she is not concerned with his being a murderer. The murderous pair, who become doppelgängers, continue in their path of evil and night seems to dominate day as outside Macbeth's castle in Scene 4 of Act II, Ross tells an old man 

By th' clock ’tis day,
And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp.
Is ’t night’s predominance or the day’s shame
That darkness does the face of Earth entomb
When living light should kiss it? (2.4.6-10)
 
Again in Act III Macbeth attempts to thwart the supernatural and the rule of kings by plotting to kill Banquo and his son Fleance to counteract the witches' other prediction, but only Banquo is killed as Fleance escapes. As Macbeth bloodies his soul more deeply, the more violent he becomes, the more disturbed his mind is. In Scene 4, he imagines that he sees Banquo at a banquet. Horrified, he tells the ghost, "Never shake/Thy gory locks at me." Again, Lady Macbeth must assume the dominant role and make excuses for her husband's strange behavior as he cannot believe that his wife does not also see the ghost.
Further, in Act IV, the lines between the supernatural and natural become more entangled as the witches predict further that "none of woman born/Shall harm Macbeth" and they also predict that "Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill [where Macbeth's castle is] /Shall come against him." After hearing these predictions, Macbeth reasons,
That will never be.
Who can impress the forest, bid the tree
Unfix his earth-bound root? Sweet bodements, good! 
Rebellious dead, rise never, till the Wood
Of Birnam rise, and our high-placed Macbeth
Shall live the lease of nature...(4.1.98-103)
 
Nevertheless, he is disturbed and his paranoia increases. Likewise, Lady Macbeth begins to suffer from guilt until she goes mad as she imagines the stairs of the castle stained with blood. Similarly, Macbeth follows suit in his tragedy of the imagination as his vision of blood, ghosts, and the phantasmagoric with the moving Birnam forest lead to his death despite his attempt to defy fate as he rushes at Malcolm who slays him. In both Lady Macbeth's and Macbeth's ambiguous state of "vaulting ambition" (their tragic flaw), there is a constantly shifting succession of things seen and imagined, a thwarting of the natural order of things, a disruption of the Chain of Being, confusion of natural and unnatural, and a perversion and ambiguity of time and space and order that leads them to lose their lives in their tragic imaginations.
_____________________________________________________________
II.  As doppelgängers, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are tragic characters. Lady Macbeth can be considered as such by the following criteria:
 
1. Noble stature
Lady Macbeth is of the nobility; she is a loving and loyal wife.
 
2. Hubris
While neither she nor Macbeth have hubris as defined by Aristotle, she does possess a tragic flaw: inordinate ambition. (Often Shakespeare portrays tragic flaws.)
 
3. The tragic hero's downfall is his own fault
Lady Macbeth, perhaps more than her husband at first, desires that Macbeth be king, and she is more willing than he to effect the murder of King Duncan so that Macbeth will become king soon. She ridicules her husband and his manhood until he acts.
 
4. Misfortune is not wholly deserved
Lady Macbeth deserves punishment, but her insanity and death are somewhat excessive.
 
Sources:

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