Is Macbeth a villain or tragic hero?

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Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's tragic heroes in that his character follows the model of Shakespeare's other tragic heroes. He is an admirable, powerful, and well respected member of his society, a society in which he occupies a high position. (This can also be said of King Lear, Brutus, and Hamlet, for example.) Like these other tragic heroes, Macbeth's character is flawed, and it is this character flaw that leads to his destruction. Macbeth, like Shakespeare's other tragic heroes, is ultimately responsible for his own destruction. 

The nature of Macbeth's fall is epic. From his former position of great respect and admiration, he descends--step by step--until he becomes even more than a villain; he becomes a monster. I've often wondered why Shakespeare makes Macbeth  so thoroughly detestable among his tragic heroes. I think the answer lies in Macbeth's crime (regicide) and the English political structure of Shakespeare's time (monarchy). The play develops a very strong statement about killing one's king out of political ambition. 

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The question of whether Macbeth is a villain or a tragic hero is a difficult question, and one which depends on how one understands the character.  One popular argument about the play is that it charts Macbeth's fall from heroism into villainy.  At the opening of the play, Macbeth demonstrates a fair amount of heroism.  He has fought bravely and been loyal to his king.  He embodies nobility and seems to possess virtue.  He also possesses certain characteristics that we might associate with a tragic hero, in particular a fatal flaw.  In the case of Macbeth, that fatal flaw is his ambition for power.  Macbeth, however, quickly becomes something of a villainous character.  He commits murder and puts his entire kingdom in danger.  Still, many of his evil acts are committed while he is under the influence of the Weird Sisters and Lady Macbeth, who are often considered to be the true villains of the play.  At the end of the play, Macbeth realizes the evil he has committed and seems to feel sorrow for such.  Because of this realization Macbeth is often viewed as a tragic hero, for tragic heroes almost always recognize the errors they have committed by the end of their stories and seek, in some manner, to atone for them. 

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