“‘Macbeth’ is a play without a hero”. Discuss this quotation. Begin with your definition of a hero remembering to include the definition of a tragic hero. This question is not exclusively about Macbeth.

A hero is a man of superhuman qualities favoured by the Gods, an illustrious warrior, one who has fought for his country and is admired for his achievements and noble qualities.

I am going to measure up some of the main characters against these guidelines to see if ‘Macbeth’ really is a play without a hero. I’m also going to measure each character up against the definition of a “tragic” hero who is a person that evokes both our sympathy and terror because he is usually a man of high position who falls from greatness due to an internal weakness or an outside influence.

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Banquo is a good soldier, he is honourable and even though he isn’t praised as much as Macbeth he is much respected and happy. We know this for when Duncan tells him

“I have begun to plant thee, and will labour

To make thee full of growing”

And Banquo replies

“There if I grow the harvest is your own.”

Banquo is intelligent and knows that the witchs’ prophecies might not be true and they might just be trying to lure Macbeth to his destruction.

“And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,

The instruments of darkness tell us truths,

Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s

In deepest cosequence.”

In Act Two Scene One Banquo’s integrity is shown when Macbeth says

“If you shall cleave to my consent, when’t is,

It shall make honour for you”

Banquo replies

“So I loose none

In seeking to augment it, but still keep

My bosom franchised, and allegiance clear,

I shall be counselled.”

But in Act Three Scene One Banquo’s flaws start to show through, and the reason he could never be a hero, in my opinion, is revealed, his self interest. This honourable man who not long ago was telling Macbeth he would stick by him as long as he lost no honour, had decided to keep quiet about the witches and his suspicions about Macbeth’s part in Duncan’s murder. Banquo clearly thinks that Macbeth had something to do with Duncan’s murder and this is shown when he says

“Thou hast it now, King, Cawdor, Glamis, all,

As the weird women promised; and, I fear,

Thou playedst most foully for ‘t; “

If Banquo was a hero he would confront Macbeth or do something about it but he now believes the witches and they told him that his successors would be kings, so he keeps quiet.

We first meet Macduff in Act Two Scene Three, when he goes with Lennox to Macbeth’s castle at Inverness to wake Duncan. Macbeth is the first person to find Duncan dead and his love for him is shown because he can’t even find the words to say that he has been murdered. We instantly know that Macduff is suspicious of Macbeth as he says he is not going to his coronation and therefore will not be swearing allegiance to him. Whilst all the other thanes are happy to attend the banquet Macduff refuses to go and so infuriates Macbeth. He shows us that he is quite unintelligent not only by angering Macbeth by also by leaving his wife and children unprotected when he goes to England, which results in fatal consequences.

Macduff loves his country and this is shown to a great extent in the English scene. His loyalty to his country is very strong and when Malcolm convinces him that he would make a worse king than Macbeth he really believes that

“(Scotland’s) hope ends (t)here!”

One very important point is that Macduff was the man to kill Macbeth and free Scotland. I don’t think that Macduff can be classified as a hero because of the mistakes that he made.

The first time we meet Malcolm we learn that he was almost captured in battle. This immediately makes me think he is not a very good soldier, which is something all heros must be. He is soon after made the Prince of Cumberland and we don’t see him again till Duncan’s body is discovered. He and his brother decide to flee to England which immediately throws suspicion on them thus letting Macbeth carry on the pretence of his innocence for longer.

We do not meet Malcolm again until the English scene with Macduff, where is heroic qualities start to shine through. He is extremely intelligent and very suspicious of everyone’s intentions. This is shown in one of his speeches

“Angels are bright still, though the brightest fell;

Though all things foul would wear the brows of grace,

Yet grace must still look so.”

Malcolm plays a very clever game with Macduff in the English scene, where he tries to convince him that he is “voluptuous”, greedy and that he likes to see people argue so he can find out if he really can trust Macduff.

I don’t think that Malcolm measures up to the standards of being a hero, mainly because of his lack of fighting ability but also because of his decision to flee Scotland after the murder of his father.

The last and most important character in the play who I am going to assess is Macbeth. At the beginning of the play Macbeth is the people’s hero. He is referred to as “noble Macbeth”, “worthiest cousin” and “Bellona’s bridegroom”, but by the end he is the “tyrant” and a “dead butcher”.

He is a fine soldier, probably the best in Scotland, and he can “unseam” someone “from the nave to the chaps”.

The very first time we meet Macbeth the witches are present so we never see Macbeth before the witches influence. It is obvious Macbeth is not a hero because heroes do not commit murders, but I am going to measure Macbeth against the qualities needed by a tragic hero.

The first point of being a tragic hero is being able to evoke both our sympathy and terror, and Macbeth does both of these very well especially, towards the end, our sympathy. You can’t help but pity a man who’s lost his wife and doesn’t even have time to grieve for her.

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death.”

The next point is that a tragic hero is someone who could be a hero except for his one fatal fault and Macbeth’s is his ambition. If Macbeth was not ambitious he would never have killed Duncan and the events that happened after would never have taken place. He knows his only motive to kill Duncan is his

Ambition and he admits this is Act One Scene Seven, when he says

“I have no spur

To prick the sides of my intent, but only

Vaulting ambition”

Finally, the last definition of a tragic hero is one of high position who falls from greatness due to internal weakness and outside influence. Macbeth fits this description perfectly from “Valour’s minion” to “dead butcher”, because of his ambition and a little push in the ‘wrong’ direction from the external influence provided by the witches and his wife, I definitely think Macbeth can be classified as a tragic hero.

In conclusion I agree with the statement “‘Macbeth’ is a play without a hero”. There are lots of good characters in this play but they all have their weaknesses and to make a hero you would have to take all of their good points and put them together.


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