Why is Shakespeare's Macbeth a tragic story?
The renowned Shakespearean critic, Harold Bloom, calls Macbeth both a tragedy of the imagination and a tragedy of blood.
According to Aristotle, a tragedy is the imitation in dramatic form of a serious action, expressed in language "enhanced by distinct and varying beauties" with incidents which arouse pity and fear, effecting a catharsis of such emotions. The characters are noble personages, and the plot involves a change in the fortunes of the protagonist as he falls from contentment to misery.
Certainly, Macbeth conforms to the definition of tragedy.
- It is written in a dramatic form, expressed with a beauty of language.
Macbeth is replete with dramatic actions, many figures of speech, vivid and even frightening imagery, and stirring soliloquies. One such soliloquy is that spoken by Macbeth in Act V, Scene 5 after learning of his wife's death:
...Out, out, brief candle!Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,And then is heard no more. It is a taleTold by an idiot, full of sound and fury,Signifying nothing.
- There are incidents which evoke pity and fear
Macbeth's encounter with the witches evokes fear in both the character of Macbeth and in the audience. The murders of Banquo and others and the demise of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth's descent into evil certainly evoke emotions that include pity and fear.
- The characters are noble and the plot involves the fortune of the protagonist as he descends into bloody imaginings and a continuing phantasmagoria of blood.
Macbeth's character is noble; he is a great warrior. But his tragic flaw is that of "vaulting ambition" which drives him to murder. Macbeth himself declares that "blood will have blood" and his imaginings lead to murder after murder. Although Macbeth learns that he has violated his noble nature, he refuses to follow Lady Macbeth into madness and suicide, instead dying in battle.
At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is a hero. After he is told by three witches that he will be king of Scotland in the future, he takes matters into his own hands and kills the king, Duncan. He becomes king but must continue to kill in order stay king. In the end he is killed.
It is a tragedy because we see a good man turn bad.
This is a fundamental question about the genre and the ethical issues in the play where the tragedy that we see in it is inscribed. Macbeth is a tragedy because it shows suffering---physical (Duncan's, Lady Macduff's, Banquo's and so on) and psychological (Lady Macbeth, most manifestly). It is the consequence of the actions, as executed by the different characters in the play.
It is a tragedy that combines the Greek dimensions of destiny and the more prominently Renaissance dimensions of individual agency. The play is a study of evil, both within the mind and without. For Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both, it is a tragedy of their ambition which is backed by a strong ethical imagination, rendering their mentalworld chaotic post the event of tragic sin or the action, prompted by the 'hamartia' of 'hubris' from which they both suffer.