How is Macbeth a Tragic Hero: Ambition and Moral Weakness

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About this sample


Words: 678 |

Page: 1|

4 min read

Published: Sep 7, 2023

Words: 678|Page: 1|4 min read

Published: Sep 7, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Defining the Tragic Hero
  3. Macbeth's Ambition
  4. Moral Weakness and Guilt
  5. The Reversal of Fortune
  6. Conclusion


William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" is a timeless masterpiece that offers a compelling portrayal of a tragic hero. A tragic hero is a character who possesses noble qualities but is flawed by a tragic flaw, leading to their downfall. In this essay, we will delve into the definition of a tragic hero and its key characteristics. We will then explore how Macbeth, the protagonist of the play, embodies these traits through his unchecked ambition and moral weakness, making him a classic example of a tragic hero whose story continues to resonate with audiences across the ages.

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Defining the Tragic Hero

A tragic hero is a central character in a literary work who is neither purely virtuous nor completely wicked but falls from a high position due to a tragic flaw or hamartia. The tragic hero's downfall elicits pity and fear in the audience, which Aristotle, in his analysis of Greek tragedy, deemed essential for catharsis, the purging of emotions.

Key characteristics of a tragic hero include nobility or high social standing, a fatal flaw or weakness, a reversal of fortune, self-awareness, and the audience's empathy for their suffering. It is through these traits that the tragic hero's journey becomes both relatable and emotionally charged.

Macbeth's Ambition

Macbeth's tragic flaw, his hamartia, is his overwhelming ambition. At the outset of the play, he is a respected and valiant general in the Scottish army, highly regarded by King Duncan and his peers. However, it is his encounter with the witches and their prophesies that ignite the flames of ambition within him. The witches' tantalizing prediction that he will become king awakens a relentless desire for power that consumes him.

Macbeth's ambition is not inherently evil; it is his unchecked and ruthless pursuit of power that leads to his downfall. His ambition blinds him to the moral consequences of his actions, causing him to commit heinous crimes, including regicide and the murder of innocents. As he murders his way to the throne, Macbeth spirals deeper into a world of guilt, paranoia, and isolation, marking the tragic path of a once noble hero.

Moral Weakness and Guilt

Macbeth's moral weakness is another critical aspect of his tragic character. As he succumbs to his ambition, he becomes increasingly susceptible to manipulation and moral corruption. His wife, Lady Macbeth, plays a significant role in goading him into committing the first murder, that of King Duncan. She challenges his masculinity and questions his resolve, effectively exploiting his insecurity to push him into the abyss of darkness.

However, it is Macbeth's own internal struggle with guilt that sets him apart as a tragic hero. After committing the first murder, he is plagued by an overwhelming sense of guilt and paranoia. He hallucinates, seeing a bloody dagger and the ghost of his victim, King Duncan. These manifestations of his guilt highlight his moral torment and deteriorating mental state.

The Reversal of Fortune

Macbeth's tragic journey is marked by a profound reversal of fortune. He rises to power, becoming king through treacherous means. However, his reign is characterized by insecurity, fear, and a desperate attempt to hold onto his ill-gotten throne. The more he clings to power, the more precarious his position becomes.

The reversal of Macbeth's fortune reaches its tragic climax when he is ultimately defeated and killed in battle by Macduff, a Scottish nobleman who represents the restoration of justice. Macbeth's death signifies the culmination of his tragic descent from a respected hero to a tyrannical and morally bankrupt ruler.


Macbeth, the central character of William Shakespeare's play, exemplifies the quintessential tragic hero. His noble qualities, hamartia in the form of unchecked ambition, moral weakness, the reversal of fortune, and the audience's empathy for his suffering all contribute to his tragic stature.

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Macbeth's journey from a heroic general to a power-hungry and guilt-ridden king serves as a cautionary tale about the destructive potential of unbridled ambition. His story continues to captivate audiences because it resonates with the universal themes of ambition, morality, and the consequences of our choices. Through Macbeth's tragic downfall, Shakespeare invites us to reflect on the complexities of the human condition and the enduring allure of the tragic hero.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

How Is Macbeth a Tragic Hero: Ambition and Moral Weakness. (2023, September 07). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 26, 2024, from
“How Is Macbeth a Tragic Hero: Ambition and Moral Weakness.” GradesFixer, 07 Sept. 2023,
How Is Macbeth a Tragic Hero: Ambition and Moral Weakness. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 Feb. 2024].
How Is Macbeth a Tragic Hero: Ambition and Moral Weakness [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Sept 07 [cited 2024 Feb 26]. Available from:
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