Is there poetic justice in Macbeth?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think it would be easy to look at the conclusion of this play and agree with this question. "Poetic justice" is an idiom that we use in the English language to refer to a fitting retribution for bad deeds committed, and so we could look at Macbeth's final death at the hands of Macduff, who, after all, has a particular desire to revenge his wife and children, as being a great example of justice done and evil being punished.

However, what I think is interesting about this statement is that, whilst Macbeth certainly dies and his rule of tyranny in Scotland is shown to be ended, at the same time in Act V he is given such powerful speeches and philosophical meditations that bestow him with a dignity and respect that belies his earlier acts. Consider, for example, one of his most famous speeches from this Act:

She should have died hereafter.
There would have been a time for such a word.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time.
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

This speech, coming after he finds out about the death of his wife, moves him from the position of a mere tyrannous and villainous individual to the status of a deep-thinking philosopher, who somehow captures the truth of the universal human condition in his words. The way in which he meets his end in full dignity and without fear likewise makes him a character that we end up having a begrudging respect for. Therefore, Shakespeare seems to let Macbeth face justice but at the same time he does not allow us to write him off simply as an evil man. Is this poetic justice?