Shakespeares Macbeth is an exemplary form of Aristotles definition of tragedy. Macbeth, on par with Oedipus and Medea, begins the play on a noble pedestal, but, before the eyes of the viewers, loses the battle with his destiny, and degrades from a hero to a butcher by its denouement. This is not all there is to Macbeth, however. Aristotle took the concept of tragedy very seriously, and, in order to be tragic by his standards, something would have to fulfill numerous goals, stay within certain parameters, and satisfy a set of prerequisites. With this in mind, it becomes apparent that the moving, poetic plot of Macbeth did not flow from Shakespeares pen as glibly as it might seem.
The first goal that Macbeth meets is its representation of something that is serious. Without this vital component of tragedy, a person who was formerly resolute, but succumbs to hunger one day and splurges on a chocolate cake, having lost a battle with a greater force, could conceivably be considered tragic. That doesnt make much sense, though. In Macbeth, there is never a comic moment, and barely any action is made without serious repercussions–usually resulting in the loss or salvation of someones life. Macbeth is a man who rises to public admiration through his courage and valor in war, who, after being seduced by the witches prophecies, yields to his ambition to be king, and leaves more and more murdered bodies in his wake as his aspirations climb and his morality plummets. In the end, several have died to sate Macbeths whims, and Macbeth must also be slain as a result. In this, Macbeth also meets Aristotles rules that a tragedy must be complete and of a certain magnitude. The tragedy is complete because Macbeths descent into madness is ended at the tip of Macduffs sword and with Macduffs dismissive words, Hail, king! for so thou art: behold, where stands | The usurpers cursed head: the time is free. (line 71-2, act 5, scene 8) The magnitude of Macbeths situation is twofold: it is of a great scale literally because Macbeth has made himself the king of Scotland, and, therefore, responsible for the lives of all of its citizens (not a responsibility that should be given to someone who can be so easily influenced by his conniving wife or his own emotions), and Macbeths situation is of a great scale figuratively because he becomes increasingly vain, that is, concerned only with himself, and begins to think nothing of ending someones life (even if he or she is wholly innocent) for his own gains.
Another absolutely integral part to the Aristotelian tragedy is a tragic hero with a tragic flaw–clearly Macbeth. As with anything else theorized by Aristotle, the tragic hero is very specific, and must meet several standards. According to Aristotle, the central character of a tragedy must not be so virtuous that, instead of feeling pity or fear at his or her downfall, we are simply outraged. Also the character cannot be so evil that, for the sake of justice, we desire his or her misfortune. Instead, best is someone “who is neither outstanding in virtue and righteousness; nor is it through badness or villainy of his own that he falls into misfortune, but rather through some flaw”. We are first introduced to Macbeth as a military hero, For brave Macbeth–well he deserves that name– | Disdaining fortune, with his brandishd steel, | Which smoked with bloody execution, | Like valours minion carved out his passage | till he faced the slave; (lines 20 – 24, act 1, scene 2); a man who has shown braveness in battle, but is still an average guy. He can be compared to a modern fire fighter who has rescued a person from a blazing horse–a local hero, but not seen as infallible. Enter the tragic flaw. A tragic flaw can be an intellectual error or mistake (such as receiving misinformation and relying on it, etc.), or a moral weakness, such as in the case of Macbeth, and his vaulting ambition (line 30, act 1, scene 7). It is this hitherto small foible that ensnares Macbeths will and, as he admits