What is Macbeth's tragic flaw?

Macbeth's tragic flaw is his ambition, which motivates him to kill King Duncan and ultimately leads to his downfall. After he assassinates the king and seizes the throne, Macbeth, once a loyal and respected lord, transforms into a paranoid, bloodthirsty tyrant, and he eventually dies at the hands of Macduff.

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In Shakespeare's classic play, Macbeth's tragic flaw is his "vaulting ambition," which leads him to murder King Duncan in his sleep, setting off a chain of events that culminates in Macbeth 's demise. At the start of the play, Macbeth is portrayed as a loyal, courageous soldier, praised for...

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In Shakespeare's classic play, Macbeth's tragic flaw is his "vaulting ambition," which leads him to murder King Duncan in his sleep, setting off a chain of events that culminates in Macbeth's demise. At the start of the play, Macbeth is portrayed as a loyal, courageous soldier, praised for his valiant performance on the battlefield in service of his king. On his way to Scone, Macbeth and Banquo meet three malevolent witches, who offer them mysterious prophecies.

The Three Witches address Macbeth as Thane of Glamis (his current title), Thane of Cawdor, and future King of Scotland. Shortly after Macbeth's perplexing interaction with the witches, Ross and Angus arrive and inform Macbeth that King Duncan has given him the title Thane of Cawdor as reward for his conduct in battle. With the first part of the witches' prophecy confirmed, Macbeth's ambition is awakened, and he remarks that he fears the "horrible imaginings" that now occupy his thoughts—in other words, he has already, somewhat unwillingly, begun to contemplate how he might take the throne from his king and fulfill the final part of the prophecy. Unsettled by the direction of his thoughts, he tries to put the matter from his mind.

However, when King Duncan officially names his son Malcolm as heir to the throne, granting him the title prince of Cumberland, Macbeth's ambition stirs once again. Noting that Malcolm is now another obstacle between him and the throne, Macbeth seems to already be forming a plan to seize the crown, even as he continues to war with himself, afraid of what he might be capable of:

The prince of Cumberland! That is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,
For in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be
Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see (1.4.56–62).

Despite Macbeth's increasing desire to become king, he is reluctant to kill Duncan. He acknowledges that Duncan is a good and just ruler and admits that he has no legitimate reason to remove him from the throne. Macbeth fully realizes that the only thing motivating him to commit regicide is his ambition, and he knows very well that allowing himself to be led by ambition alone could be ruinous:

I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself
And falls on th’ other (1.7.2526).

After much agonizing, Macbeth eventually succumbs to his ambition and assassinates the king—prodded along by his wife, Lady Macbeth, who is arguably even more ambitious than he. Macbeth is wracked with guilt after he kills Duncan in his sleep, and this act forever changes him. He soon degenerates into a desperate, bloodthirsty tyrant and is driven nearly mad by his fear of losing the throne. The once honorable Macbeth commits unspeakable acts—including ordering the death of his former friend Banquo and the murder of Macduff's wife and children—to stay in power. In the end, Macbeth's ambition causes him to lose everything, including his throne, his wife, his honor, and his life.

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