What is the tragic flaw of Macbeth according to Aristotle?What is the tragic flaw of Macbeth according to Aristotle?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator
What is the tragic flaw of Macbeth according to Aristotle?

What is the tragic flaw of Macbeth according to Aristotle?

I think Macbeth, like Shakespeare's other tragic heroes, did have a fatal flaw, but I agree it was his actions that brought him down. That's the way it works, I think, in life as well as in literature. Macbeth's flaw is ambition. It was there. It had always been there, but he didn't know it. Between the time he hears the prophecies and the time Duncan is actually killed, Macbeth talks a lot about his ambition--his "deep desires" as if he hadn't noticed them before, but, wow, here they are. Aren't they awful.

That seems to be another part of Shakespeare's heroes. They don't realize until too late what has done them in. Macbeth didn't know he was ambitious; Othello didn't recognize that he had no sense of self-worth; Lear didn't realize that he was a vain and foolish old man; Brutus thought the rest of the world lived according to his ideals; and Hamlet had never had to make a major adult decision before, so he had never found out he was indecisive.

But back to Macbeth. Ambition lay buried inside him, dormant. The prophecies woke it up, as it were, and Lady Macbeth poured fuel on the flame. Once Macbeth had acted on his ambition by killing Duncan, his soul was lost and he knew it and he didn't need any further prodding from his wife. He was quite capable at that point of committing the rest of his heinous acts without prompting, trying to hold on to what he had paid too high a price to obtain.

So . . .  I think Macbeth did indeed have a fatal flaw which prompted his actions that led to his downfall.

robertwilliam eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'm sorry to seem pedantic, but it's so important to be strict about this. Aristotle never wrote about tragic flaws. Hamartia is the Greek word usually mis-translated as "tragic flaw". It actually means "mistake".

Aristotle's conception of tragedy involves a man of high status who makes a mistake, and therefore falls to lower status and disgrace. It also makes a lot more sense that people do something wrong, rather than just are fundamentally wrong in the first place.

"Macbeth" undoubtedly fits this pattern, and, rather than have to scrabble about pointlessly to find a "tragic flaw", you can instead point to a very definite mistake. Macbeth, because of the witches, his wife, and his own ambition (all three of them play a part, I think!) kills the king. It's downhill from there.

parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, let's first get the chicken before the egg, so to speak...

Aristotle set forth the criteria of Greek tragedy long before Shakespeare's "Macbeth" (even prior to the stories on which the play was based).  The idea of "tragic flaw" was that one weakness in an otherwise almost perfect hero brought about his undoing or "fall," thus making the idea of tragedy or loss even worse.

Shakespeare's "Macbeth" adheres to the criteria of Greek tragedy (as set forth by Aristotle) in that the character Macbeth let ambition get the best (and finally worst!) of him, bringing about his ultimate downfall.

yuh8888 | Student

Aristotle was dead when Macbeth was written.

amlr1995 | Student

thanks a lot

ssook | Student

Macbeth’s tragic flaw was his love for Lady Macbeth. He returned a hero from a battle where he served without his wife. Once he was with his wife, his desire to fulfill her wishes and desires gave him courage or at the very least incentive to follow through with actions he questioned. When he was unable to follow through with any action, she performed the action for him.