If evil is punished in the end, why do we still call Macbeth a tragedy?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Shakespeare titled the play "The Tragedy of Macbeth" and obviously wanted it to be thought of as a tragedy. Evidently he hoped to make his audience feel pity for Macbeth and to think of him as an essentially good, noble, heroic person with only one tragic flaw, which is generally thought to be the flaw of possessing blind ambition. It would seem Shakespeare created the characters of the three witches and of Lady Macbeth in order to have them absorb some of the blame for Macbeth's wicked behavior. The witches mislead him with their false prophecies. His wife goads him into killing Duncan by telling him how easy it will be, how he will prove he lacks manhood if he fails to go through with it, and how he will show he doesn't really love her if he refuses to satisfy her own blind ambition. We do not really feel much sympathy for Macbeth. The witches make him look feckless and gullible, while his wife makes him look weak, indecisive, and henpecked. It is plain that he would not have gone through with the murder if his wife had not used all her powers of persuasion (and sex appeal) and had not actually helped him by drugging the King's attendants and smearing their faces with blood. But in spite of everything Shakespeare can do to try to make Macbeth look like a hero with only one tragic flaw, we see him as weak, treacherous, sadistic, gullible, uxorious, incompetent--and also ambitious.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team