William Shakespeare, with his gift of wielding a pen,has remained successful to enthrall the minds of readers through his literature. His one such work is ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth,’ where he explores important themes such as the ambition and tyranny of Macbeth that ultimately lead to his downfall from the status of kingship and high nobility. Although Macbeth wins the hatred of readers due to his tyranny throughout the play, Shakespeare deftly characterizes elements of goodness in this villain, which makes the readers sympathize with him and identify him as a tragic hero, especially towards the end.
Macbeth is portrayed in the beginning as a great warrior who has triumphed over his enemies, together with Banquo even in his latest battle. However, three witches block his way and make prophesies, injecting in him venomous seeds of ambition. This stems out from the fact that he is ambitious to gain that state of knowledge that the witches have about his future, when he “charges” them to “tell (him) more” (Shakespeare Act1). Shakespeare hints that ambition is not inborn in Macbeth and wants readers to see that Macbeth is only tempted towards it due to the evil witches.
The first of the prophecies comes true as he is indeed made the thane of Cawdor, and now he feels some newfound faith in the witches’ words. Lady Macbeth clears any doubts that he has of things turning to his favor, by forcing him to murder King Duncan and replace him as king. Ambition drives him to submit to his wife’s persuasions and he does become king. However, guilt prances in his heart as he says “this is a sorry sight” and reflects on how he “could not say amen” (Act 2). His conscience questions his action and this is one element that Shakespeare brings to surface in order for the audience to connect with Macbeth as even the common man commits mistakes he is not necessarily proud of.
In spite of his feelings of remorse and guilt, Lady Macbeth continued her puppeteering and stirred him away from those feelings, telling him his thoughts were “foolish” and that he need not “consider them so deeply” (Act2). Shakespeare, here, wants the readers to think of Macbeth as one who is not strong to stay grounded on his opinions and is easily manipulated by others. Giving him an element of vulnerability, Shakespeare wants the readers to again view Macbeth with eyes of sympathy.
Later, however, Macbeth undergoes moral degeneration and transforms into a tyrant. Vile as his intentions kept becoming so were his actions and this influenced him to murder many more, fearing threat to his throne or his fall from greatness. However, ironically enough his actions ultimately result in his fall from power, greatness, grace as well as humane virtues. It becomes clear that his “vaulting ambition, which oerleaps itself and falls on the other” actually fell on him leading to his demise in the hands of Macduff (Act 1).
The portrayal of Macbeth as a bloody villain all this time, makes it very difficult for Shakespeare to win sympathy from audience towards the end. At this point, Macbeth in his last battle is set to fight till the end and “not yield” to anyone, like a true hero (Act 5). Moreover, Shakespeare makes use of catharsis by getting Macbeth killed, leaving in the minds of the readers a feeling of pity and empathy. Therefore, Shakespeare succeeds in regenerating Macbeth’s character to a level of human greatness as in the end readers get a feeling that Macbeth’s life and also his death resonate tragedy due to his poor decisions.
Shakespeare, William. Play Script – Text: Macbeth. William Shakespeare Info. 2005. Web. 8 November 2012.