What do Macbeth, Brutus, Othello, and Hamlet have in common?

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Macbeth, Brutus, Othello, and Hamlet are all considered tragic heroes, who possess internal flaws that result in their demise and lead to their deaths. All four protagonists hail from prestigious families or occupy a high social status. For example, Macbeth is a thane, Brutus's ancestor is famous for defeating a tyrant, Othello is a renowned general, and Hamlet is a prince. All four characters are bound for glory and destined for greatness. Both Macbeth and Othello have promising military careers, while Brutus and Hamlet have prime opportunities to climb the political ladder and attain positions of authority. All four characters are also popular individuals and are praised by the masses.

Despite their many positive qualities, Macbeth, Brutus, Othello, and Hamlet each have tragic flaws that lead to their demise. Macbeth is overly ambitious, and Brutus is obsessed with honor and nobility, which makes him naive and vulnerable. Othello's tragic flaw is his jealousy, while Hamlet's tragic flaw is his hesitation to act. All four characters also become victims of their internal flaws and fall from glory before their tragic deaths. Macbeth becomes a victim of hubris and is killed by Macduff in the final battle, while Brutus runs through his own sword at the end of Julius Caesar. Othello takes his own life after killing Desdemona, while Hamlet dies after Laertes stabs him with a poison-tipped sword. It is also interesting to note that all four tragic heroes are directly involved in murdering other characters. Macbeth assassinates King Duncan, Brutus stabs Caesar, Othello murders Desdemona, and Hamlet kills Laertes and King Claudius.

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It is interesting to note that Macbeth resembles three of Shakespeare's other famous characters: Brutus, Othello, and Hamlet. All four have serious inner conflicts about committing murder. Macbeth is ambitious, but he would not have killed King Duncan if he had not been influenced by the three witches and persuaded by his wife. At one point, he tells her,

We will proceed no further in this business: He hath honor'd me of late, and I have bought Golden opinions from all sorts of people,Which would be worn now in their newest gloss, Not cast aside so soon (Act I, Scene 7).

Lady Macbeth's will is stronger than her husband's, and he goes ahead with the assassination, which he will bitterly regret for the rest of his life.

In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Brutus has serious misgivings about joining in the plot to assassinate Caesar. He would not have done so without the persuasion and machinations of Cassius.

Othello is like Macbeth and Brutus in that he commits a murder he does not want to commit. Here, it is the wicked fabrications of Iago that finally make him feel compelled to kill Desdemona. Some of Shakespeare's most beautiful lines are spoken by Othello as he prepares to kill the woman he loves more than anyone in the world.

It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul. Let me not name it to you, you chaste stars! It is the cause. Yet I'll not shed her blood, Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow And smooth as monumental alabaster.Yet she must die, else she'll betray more men. Put out the light, and then put out the light. If I quench thee, thou flaming minister, I can again thy former light restore, Should I repent me; but once put out thy light,Thou cunning'st pattern of excelling nature, I know not where is that Promethean heat That can thy light relume. When I have pluck'd the rose, I cannot give it vital growth again (Act V, Scene 2).

Shakespeare's Hamlet is all about a man who must commit a murder but procrastinates because he can't quite bring himself to do it in cold blood. In Hamlet's soliloquies, he keeps telling himself why he should do it and asking himself why he hasn't. He can't refrain from acting, though. He has sworn an oath to his dead father. He knows Claudius deserves to die for killing his father, usurping the throne, and marrying his father's widow.

It isn't until almost the end of the last scene of the last act that Hamlet, dying of a poisonous wound and in the heat of anger, finally does what he is bound to do. His procrastination costs many other lives.

Shakespeare must have enjoyed writing dialogue for characters who were experiencing severe inner conflicts. These tormenting problems make such characters more realistic and multidimensional. Perhaps viewers relate to them because all of us experience inner conflicts throughout our lives, though not usually of such a serious nature as those of Macbeth, Brutus, Othello, and Hamlet.

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