Is Macbeth a villain or hero?

Macbeth is a villain for the majority of the play. Macbeth's ambition leads him to become a violent traitor who assassinates King Duncan and rules Scotland like a ruthless tyrant. Though he arguably starts out as a hero, Macbeth seems to lose nearly all his humanity in his quest to take and keep the throne.

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At the start of the play, Macbeth is a hero who is revered and respected by King Duncan and his fellow countrymen. Macbeth excels on the battlefield and wins decisive victories for his king—in short, he is a loyal, brave lord who is willing to risk his life to defend...

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At the start of the play, Macbeth is a hero who is revered and respected by King Duncan and his fellow countrymen. Macbeth excels on the battlefield and wins decisive victories for his king—in short, he is a loyal, brave lord who is willing to risk his life to defend king and country.

Macbeth's hero status is short-lived, however. Once he hears a prophecy from the Three Witches that he will one day be king, Macbeth becomes consumed by the idea of killing King Duncan and seizing the throne for himself. Though he knows his desires are wrong and disloyal, he cannot shake his ambition—especially once his cunning and manipulative wife, Lady Macbeth, becomes involved in his plan. After Macbeth follows through with the murder, killing Duncan in his sleep, he transforms into the play's villain.

After Duncan's death, Macbeth becomes King of Scotland. Despite having achieved his objective, Macbeth is still unsatisfied, believing (correctly) that his lords do not trust him. Desperate to keep the throne, Macbeth becomes increasingly bloodthirsty, and the guilt and hesitation that preceded his act of regicide seems to vanish. He plots the murder of his once close friend Banquo, hiring assassins to kill him and his son, Fleance. After Banquo's murder, Macbeth's bloodlust and paranoia only grows worse. When he suspects Macduff of disloyalty, Macbeth dispatches assassins to kill Macduff's wife and children. Increasingly isolated, Macbeth seeks the counsel of the Witches, and his inability to recognize their obvious malevolence is only further evidence of his own moral degeneration.

Under Macbeth's rule, Scotland is transformed into a desolate, hostile country, where no one is safe and everyone lives in fear. The citizens of Scotland suffer under Macbeth's tyrannical reign and hope that Malcolm, Duncan's son and the rightful heir to the throne, will return from England and save them from their villainous king. In the end, Malcolm and Macduff—the true heroes of the play—kill Macbeth and restore order to Scotland. Although Macbeth is the play's villain, he can also interpreted as a tragic hero or a victim of supernatural forces, as it's not clear whether he would have committed regicide and experienced his dramatic fall from glory were it not for the interference of the witches.

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