Is Macbeth a hero or a dangerous man?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

MacBeth is a tragic hero in that he is of hero status, but due to a flaw, he falls from grace or his heroic state.

In Act I, scene ii, when MacBeth is spoken of in line 16, "For brave MacBeth-well he deserves that name-" we get the first testament to his character. Later in the scene, Duncan bestows the Title of thane of Cawdor to MacBeth because of his loyalty and prowess in battle. It is quickly established even before the audience meets MacBeth, he is a hero.

The rest of the play is his fall from grace. He receives the prophecy that he will be king, but his logic and impatience, along with Lady MacBeth's encouragement, he takes the matter into his own hands and kills Ducan.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The simple answer is that Macbeth is initially a hero, but he becomes a dangerous, murderous man. 

Before we even meet Macbeth, the Sergeant informs Duncan of Macbeth's brave deeds: 

For brave Macbeth - well he deserves that name, 

Disdaining fortune with this brandish'd steel,

Which smoked with bloody execution (I.ii.18-20) 

Duncan is so grateful to Macbeth for winning the battle that he awards him the title of Thane of Cawdor after the previous Thane committs treason. So, from all that we know prior to Macbeth's meeting with the witches, he is a brave soldier and is loyal to Duncan. In short, he is heroic in the beginning. 

However, it doesn't take long for him to devolve into a very dangerous man. The seed is planted in his mind that he will be king. He communicates this in writing to his wife. She is convinced that Macbeth will need encouragement to become ambitious enough to follow this path. And indeed, she does this in Act I, Scene 7. By Act II, Scene 2, he has killed Duncan and is so plagued by fear and anxiety that he becomes even more dangerous. He will do anything to protect himself. It is important that he is initially presented as a heroic, loyal subject to the king. His relatively quick transition to a dangerous man shows how greed and power can corrupt very quickly. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial