Tragedy In Macbeth

The tragedy of Macbeth: What is a tragedy? How does Shakespeare use tragedy in Macbeth? Give examples. Is it an effective way of telling the story?

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gracielouwhat eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The definitions of comedy and tragedy have changed slightly since Shakespeare's time. A Shakespearean comedy is not necessarily a laugh-out-loud story with ridiculous characters and slapstick jokes, although those elements are present in some of his comedies such as The Comedy of Errors. Simply put, a Shakespearean comedy is one in which the main characters come to some resolution of the story without dying. A tragedy, then, is one in which the ending is resolved with the deaths of the main characters. Some tragedies, like Romeo and Juliet, have all the feelings of a comedy right up until the end when the main characters die, and some comedies, like The Winter's Tale, feel more like tragedies until the very end when everything is happily resolved. Some of Shakespeare's plays are even labeled as "problem plays" because, despite their endings, they simply don't seem to fit into either category.

Macbeth, however, is a fairly straightforward tragedy. The interesting thing Shakespeare has done with this play, however, is to make his protagonist the villain of the plot. He did the same thing in Richard III. Shakespeare was a master at humanizing even the most despicable characters. In Macbeth, the audience is not meant to root for Macbeth, yet it is his story that they follow and his destiny that is the main focus. It is not so much tragic that he dies at the end, but it is tragic that a man who had once been a good and loyal subject becomes so corrupted and greedy that he comes to such an end.


pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Macbeth falls into the category of tragedy because at the end of the play, most or all of the major characters die.  The play is a depiction of how evil human nature can be under the influence of the dark passions.  Greed, desire for power, unchecked ambition, acting outside of morality, in Macbeth this leads to murder and more murder of innocent people.

Macbeth is a tragic hero who has been led astray by the promise of glory and power.  We, the reader, recognize the motivation that Macbeth gets from the witches prophecy, he gets caught up in a plot to kill the king because the witches assured him that he would become king.

Macbeth is used by the witches, led to his own destruction, duped by the prophecies that he misinterprets to mean that he is indestructible.  It is only at the end when he sees that he is trapped by his own actions and faces death that he realizes that he trusted the witches, a big mistake.

Tragedy is a very effective way to tell a story.  The reader gets all the drama involved with deception, plotting, evil and murder, it is very entertaining,  and at the end, a lesson in morality is evident.  The tragic hero, although he almost always dies at the end of the work, offers the reader an opportunity to learn a truth about life. 

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In literature, a tragedy is a type of story is that is serious and focuses on the "series of misfortunes" experienced by the main character which leads to a "final catastrophe." (See the first reference link provided).

Using this definition, we can see that it applies to Macbeth. After hearing the prophecies, for example, Macbeth puts into an action a plan to make himself the king of Scotland. After murdering King Duncan, however, Macbeth experiences a number of misfortunes which lead to his own demise on the battlefield. For Macbeth, these misfortunes are often linked to the deterioration of his mental state. He experiences paranoia, for instance, and a number of hallucinations.

By telling the story in this way, Shakespeare sends an important moral message to the reader in which he warns against the danger of excessive and unchecked ambition. Moreover, through Macbeth's mental suffering (and that of Lady Macbeth), Shakespeare shows the that their actions had very serious consequences.

Tragedy, therefore, is a very effective way of telling the story since it conveys these key messages.