What was Macbeth's tragic flaw, how does it lead to his doom, and is it helped along by the ladies of the play?

Expert Answers
pmiranda2857 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Macbeth's fatal flaw in the play is unchecked ambition, that is a desire for power and position, namely to be king, which is more important to him than anything else in life.  He is willing to give up everything that he has in his life in order to possess the crown to sit on the throne.

Yes, the ladies in the play do have something to do with it. The ladies include, the witches, the three in the beginning, as well as the queen of the witches, Hecate, and Lady Macbeth. 

What happens to Macbeth is a combination of events that lead to the opportunity to seize power.  He is influenced by the women in the play, the witches, who give him a prophecy that contains information that he will be king of Scotland. The witches don't give him a time table for his ascension to the throne, just that his future holds this for him.

"The witches in Macbeth are present in only four scenes in the play, but Macbeth's fascination with them motivates much of the play's action."  

He becomes so thrilled with the idea that he will be king, that he begins to think that he should be king right now.  Even though he has been a loyal servant to King Duncan, he becomes angry when he sees the king elevate his son Malcolm and proclaim him as the heir apparent to the throne of Scotland.

Macbeth is also influenced by his wife, Lady Macbeth.  In fact after Macbeth has thought about killing King Duncan, and had time to consider the witches prophecy, he decides that he doesn't want to kill the king.  Then once he tells his wife about the prophecy, she becomes so thrilled with the idea of being queen that she begs and pleads with him to convince him that he should kill the king, that he will have a singular opportunity when the king visits their home that evening.  It is perfect, she says, a once in a lifetime opportunity.  

"The extent of Lady Macbeth's power over her husband is debated. Some critics blame Lady Macbeth for precipitating Macbeth's moral decline and ultimate downfall. Others argue that, while Lady Macbeth appears to be increasingly guilt-ridden as the play progresses as evidenced by her sleepwalking episodes, Macbeth becomes increasingly murderous."

Then, she actually insults him, demeans him, accuses him of being less than a man if he doesn't have the courage to kill the king.  She is so vicious towards Macbeth that he finally agrees to kill the king. 

Once he does kill the king, he begins to unravel, mentally and emotionally.  As a king, he is stricken with a serious case of paranoia.  He believes that everyone is trying to kill him to take his throne, so he keeps murdering.  First he gets rid of Banquo, unfortunately, the killers don't kill Fleance, who is e Banquo's son.  Then after he goes to see the witches again, he is given another set of prophecies, and he decides to kill Macduff.  He sends murders to kill Macduff, he is not at home, so the murderers kill his entire family instead.

All of Macbeth's activities as king contribute to his doom or his undoing.  He is a terrible king, a tyrant who is feared. Malcolm, the rightful heir to the throne, joins forces with Macduff and the King of England who provides soldiers. Macbeth is confronted by Macduff, the only man capable of killing him, and he is killed and Malcolm is put on the throne. 


oammegnine | Student

"In a tragedy, once a character recognizes their flaw, they either work to reverse the problems they've caused, or they die."
Exactly, Macbeth realises his flaw is ambition, he doesn't work to reverse the problems he's caused and this eventually leads to his death.
Ambition IS his tragic flaw.

englishisadrag | Student

Macbeth's tragic flaw like Duncan is that he is too trusting. He trusted the witches and it plays with the motif that everything is not as it seems. This is what caused his defeat at the end of the play. Like akatami says, "In a tragedy, once a character recognizes their flaw, they either work to reverse the problems they've caused, or they die." 

I know this is confusing to actually grasp, and it does indeed seem like ambition IS Macbeth's great flaw, but it isn't. This concept is highily misunderstood, but although ambition leads him to his defeat and is a flaw when they say tragic flaw what they are referring to is the idea akatami suggests. In a tragedy the flaw is what leads him to his ULTIMATE DOWNFALL. Yes ambition is the cause and is part of the whole reel, but in the end, right before the end he discovers the withches betrayed him. You know how they say this play is about betrayal?  Thats the thing, the witches betray him, and his flaw was that he was too trusting.   Well either that or ambition....... ask your teacher why don't you? Thats what I studied, and passed on, but like honestly I'm still confused because all over google they say it was ambition, and I'm all my teacher gave us a lecture on how he was too trusting....

aargh I hate Shakespere.....-_-

akatami | Student

Macbeth's tragic flaw is NOT ambition, because he does not change the way that he acts after he realizes that he is too ambitious in Act 1 Scene 3. In a tragedy, once a character recognizes their flaw, they either work to reverse the problems they've caused, or they die. Since Macbeth only makes more problems after he realizes he is too ambitious, it is NOT his flaw. This is a common misconception, but do not believe it.