Shakespeare portrays Macbeth, the main protagonist, to be tragic hero who inevitably dies as a result of his fatal flaw: ambition. Macbeth is shown as very trustworthy and loyal at the beginning of the play; in a position of great social standing, respected by all and often praised by the King. Unfortunately, as a result of his fatal flaw, together with his terrible error of judgement in trusting supernatural predictions (and allowing himself to be bullied and manipulated by his wife), Macbeth loses all decency and humanity. As a tragedy, the plays shows Macbeth descending into savagery and losing all his noble qualities, except perhaps his physical bravery, especially when he finally confronts Macduff in hand to hand combat at the end of the play. However, this last reminder of the brave warrior he once was is not enough to erase the appalling deeds that Macbeth has committed and the innocent blood he has spilt and makes Malcolm’s final assessment of him as a “dead butcher” seem justified.
Macbeth shows many heroic qualities often praised and is highly praised in Act I scene ii via the captain’s account of Macbeth’s heroism. The “bleeding captain” tells King Duncan about Macbeth, praising his brave and inspiring conduct in battle; “Brave Macbeth, well he deserves that name-” Duncan is clearly impressed, calling him “valiant cousin”; (valiant meaning courageous and heroic), this also tells us that Macbeth is related to Duncan in blood as he says “cousin”; he also calls him “worthy gentleman”. From this, the audience gains the impression that he is well respected and praised by the King even though Macbeth has not yet appeared on stage yet. Shakespeare’s use of imagery whilst describing Macbeth is rich in this scene. By describing Macbeth as, “valour’s minion” and “Bellona’s bridegroom” “valour” being another name for bravery and “Bellona” the goddess of War his use of language tells the audience of how triumphant and brave Macbeth’s actions were.
In Act I scene iii, Macbeth hears the prophecies and the audience can see his heroic struggle to control the conflicting and dangerous thoughts unleashed by the witches’ predictions that he will be “King hereafter”. At this point, Macbeth has not yet succumbed to the allure of what the prophecies are promising him and is even terrified by a fleeting thought “… whose murder yet is but fantastical”, making his “seated heart” knock at his ribs and his hair stand on end. However, after being handsomely rewarded for his loyalty and bravery, by a grateful Duncan, Macbeth changes forever when he realises that Malcolm is to be the next King, making the witches’ final prophesy unlikely, unless this “… step on which (Macbeth) must fall down” is in some way “o’erleaped”. At the same time Macbeth calls upon the stars to hide their fires so that light may not reveal his “black and deep desires”, showing that the once loyal warrior and kinsman to Duncan is now actively planning to make the final prophecy come true by foul means.
Despite having second thoughts about killing Duncan, in Act I Scene vii, Macbeth allows himself to be talked into doing the deed by his manipulative and equally ambitious wife, who plays upon his sense of masculinity and “entitlement” to the throne as a result of supernatural prediction; her close association with witchcraft also would have terrified the Jacobean audience. Even though he knows that in killing the King he is violating God’s Law and will face divine judgement in “the life to come”, Macbeth also realises that it is a dreadful act to kill a King who “hath borne his faculties so meek” and “Hath been so clear in his great office”. He concedes that as the King’s host he should protect him and “shut the door” against any who would do him harm and “Not bear the knife myself”. At this point Macbeth, while not the loyal subject of Act I scene ii has…