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Macbeths tragic flaw

"(Sometimes a tragic hero is created, not through his own villainy),

but rather through some flaw in him, he being one of those who are in high

station and good fortune, like Oedipus and Thyestes and the famous men of

such families as those." (Poetics, Aristotle). Every great tragedy is

dominated by a protagonist who has within himself a tragic flaw, too much or

too little of one of Aristotle's twelve virtues. In Macbeth, by William

Shakespeare, Macbeth, a great Scottish general and thane of Glamis, has just

won an important battle, when he is told by three witches that he will become

thane of Cawdor and then king of Scotland. After Macbeth is given Cawdor by

King Duncan, he takes the witches words for truth and conspires against

Duncan with his wife. When Duncan comes to Macbeth's castle that night,

Macbeth kills him and takes the crown for himself after Duncan's sons flee

from Scotland. Then Macbeth reigns for a while, has several people killed,

and is eventually slain by Macduff when he and Malcolm return leading the

armies of England. Often people read the play and automatically conclude

that Macbeth's tragic flaw is his ambition; that he is compelled to commit

so many acts of violence by his lust for power. However, by carefully

examining the first act, one can determine the defect in Macbeth's character

that creates his ambition; his true tragic flaw. Macbeth's tragic flaw is

not his ambition as most people believe, but rather his trust in the words of

the witches and in his wife's decisions.

At the beginning of the play Macbeth has no designs on the throne,

and he does not start plotting until his wife comes up with a plan. When

first faced with the witches' words, Macbeth expresses astonishment and

disbelief rather than welcoming them when he says, " be King stands not

within the prospect of belief, no more than to be Cawdor...."(1.3.73-75).

When confronted with the witches' proclamation that he is to be king, Macbeth

responds as a loyal subject would; not as a man with secret aspirations in

his heart. He has no reason to hide his true feelings at this point so

therefore it can be assumed that Macbeth has not yet truly considered killing

the king. Even after the first of the witches' predictions comes true,

Macbeth does not plot against the king but instead decides to leave it to

chance. "(Aside) If chance will have me King, why, chance may crown me,

Without my stir."(1.3.143-144). Macbeth has already been granted the title

of thane of Cawdor, but still he acts as though a loyal subject would. His

lack of ambition is stressed here by the fact that the actor is speaking the

thoughts of the character rather than words that the character says aloud.

It is Macbeth's wife that decides to convince her husband to kill Duncan

after she has learned what has happened, "Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and

shalt be what thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o'

the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way."(1.5.14-17) Lady

Macbeth is saying that her husband is too kind to kill the king but that he

will get what has been promised to him. She goes on to say that she will

bring him around to her way of thinking. So obviously, Macbeth himself is

not excessively ambitious, he has no desire to kill Duncan until Lady Macbeth

plants the thought within his heart.

Macbeth's true tragic flaw, the force behind his ambition, is his

gullibility, his willingness to trust the witches and his wife; no matter

how terrible their ideas may be. By the end of the fourth scene Macbeth is

already beginning to acknowledge the witches' words as truth after Malcolm

becomes Prince of Cumberland, the heir to throne, "(Aside) The Prince of

Cumberland! That is a step on which I must fall down or else o'erleap, for

in my way it lies."(1.4.48-50) Less than a day has passed, and already

Macbeth is beginning to believe in the words of the witches, Satan's

representatives on Earth. Despite centuries of tradition that tells Macbeth

that witches are evil, and therefore lie, he is already thinking that what

they say is true. While talking with his wife about her plans, Macbeth says,

"We will proceed no further in this business..."(1.7.31), and then, less than

fifty lines later, they are working out the details of their nefarious

scheme. Macbeth quickly accedes to his wife's wishes, displaying his

willingness to trust his destiny in the hands of others. If Macbeth had not

placed so much trust in his wife and in the witches, perhaps he would not

have become ambitious and killed a man he loved and admired. His gullibility

is his true tragic flaw as it is the cause of his ambition and the weakness

that allows evil to take root in his soul.

Macbeth's ambition is not the fatal flaw within his character, but

rather that which leads to his ambition; his trustful nature. This is

evident in that he does not desire the throne until after he finally accepts

the predictions of the witches as truth; and he does not want to kill the

king until after his wife convinces him that he should. If Macbeth had not

trusted the emissaries of Satan, then he never would have considered killing

Duncan and would have been satisfied with being thane of Glamis and Cawdor.

And if he had not trusted his wife, Macbeth would not have killed a man he

loved and revered, an act that eventually led to his downfall. Not everybody

in this world can be trusted, there are too many people who are only looking

out for their own best interests. While one should not become paranoid and

trust nobody, lest they become cut off from society, safeguards must be

established against these fraudulent people so that they cannot take

advantage of an unprepared populace.

Source: Essay UK -

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