In Shakespeare's play Macbeth, how does Macbeth fit the criteria of a tragic hero? 

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karaejacobi eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A tragic hero starts out as generally a decent person who is powerful and high-ranking in his society. Because of a tragic flaw or flaws, and the actions that he takes as a result of his flaws, the tragic hero falls (often he dies at the end of the play, but this is not always the case). The tragic hero does evoke the audience's sympathy and pity at certain points in the tragedy, and he is human (flawed), so he exhibits fear. Although he may briefly protest his fate, he eventually comes to accept it. We can see Macbeth exhibit many of the qualities of the tragic hero in Shakespeare's Macbeth.

At the start of the play, Macbeth is a respected thane and battle commander. After the battle in Act I, scene ii, Macbeth is promoted by King Duncan, with whom he seems to have a strong relationship. Once Macbeth is told by the witches that he will one day be King, however, he becomes excessively ambitious, and in the beginning of Act II, he has already murdered Duncan and ascended to the throne. Macbeth exhibits fear during and after the murder of Duncan; in fact, he is so disturbed by what he has done that Lady Macbeth has to go back to plant the daggers on the guards to frame them for the crime (Macbeth refused to go back to the scene because of his fear and disgust). Macbeth's fear quickly transforms into paranoia, and he constantly feels that his position as king is threatened. This leads him to have his best friend killed and to order the murders of Macduff's wife, children, and servants. 

Later in the play, Macbeth returns to the witches and receives a new set of prophecies. These apparitions tell him that he should beware Macduff but that no man born of woman can harm him, and that he will be in power until the trees march up the hill. Macbeth takes these prophecies as a guarantee that he will remain king and he acts recklessly. In a way, this could be seen as Macbeth protesting his fate, though he does not know it yet. The prophecies all come true in the end and Macbeth falls from power, but Macbeth chooses to interpret the predictions in his favor and does not prepare for the oncoming battle in which he is killed. 

Once he starts to see the prophecies coming true in Act V, Macbeth protests by vowing to fight to the death. He will take on Macduff one-on-one, and he still believes that Macduff can't harm him because he must've been born of a woman. However, Macduff was "from his mother's womb / Untimely ripped" (V.viii.15-16). Macbeth continues to fight, but at this point must accept his fate. Macbeth is also seen accepting fate earlier in Act V when he learns of his wife's suicide and gives his famous "Out, out, brief candle!" speech (V.v.23). When Macbeth is killed by Macduff and the rightful heir, Malcolm, is placed on the throne, Macbeth's tragic fall is complete.