Tragic Flaws of Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Play

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Words: 1144 |

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6 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Words: 1144|Pages: 3|6 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

It is often easier for people to blame their misfortune on fate and anything else that is not their own doing, than to actually take responsibility for their actions. In William Shakespeare's Macbeth, the play focuses around Macbeth, from his questionable rise to power to his drastic fall from grace. It brings into question whether or not Macbeth’s rise and fall was crafted by his own actions or simply the fate he was predestined to be apart of. Throughout the play Macbeth believes what transpires is just his fate coming to life. Shakespeare introduces many themes in Macbeth, but one that seems to present itself more than others is that Macbeth is doomed not by fate, but by a flaw in his character.  

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To begin, Macbeth's flaws start to emerge more and more as the play unfolds. He, who was once a brave soldier and a respected man, becomes a paranoid shell of his former self. Paranoia being one flaw that becomes very evident early on in the play. His paranoia is first shown when there is a knock at the castle following Duncan’s murder. Macbeth exclaims, “Whence is that knocking? “How is ’t with me when every noise appals me? What hands are here? Ha! They pluck out mine eyes. Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red.” Essentially explaining that every noise catches his attention and that he cannot be still. In addition, his hands which he cannot recognize due to the action they have just carried out are to him covered in blood that not even the sea could wash out. Almost instantly after the murder he begins to feel what will soon become a full on psychological break that will lead him to his doom. His paranoia does not begin to affect the lives of the innocent until after King Duncan’s body is discovered in the castle. Lennox explains that it appears to have been the guards who killed Duncan when Macbeth says, “Oh, yet I do repent me of my fury, That I did kill them.” Macbeth was only supposed to kill Duncan, the death of the guards was due to Macbeth being worried that if he were to leave the guards it would result in his plan being foiled and in a moment of frenzy he killed the guards. Immediately he ignores the initial plan and starts a cycle of bloodshed which is just beginning. Macbeth carries on and begins to succumb to the paranoia completely.  

Furthermore, while Macbeth does lack confidence is his own actions and questions himself when it comes to most situations where a choice has to be made, he has no shortage of ambition. Ambition while it can be a desirable trait can also cause one to give in to their darkest temptations. Being ambitious needs to be evened out with the same amount of caution and reasoning. Giving in to ambition without being sensible and aware of the possible consequences can lead to irreversible effects. Macbeth himself conveys to the audience that he has ambitions that he cannot control. Whilst questioning if murdering the king is the right choice he says, “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself and falls on th' other.” He likens himself to someone who cannot come to use a spur on their horse to make it go faster. That only his ambition carries him and will cause him to attempt to jump, but ends up falling over. In this case it means that he cannot seem to commit the murders without guilt (kicking the horse) but still carries out the murders (attempting the jump) and later paying the price for those murders (falling over). His ambitions begin to be troubling after his encounter with the witches, he’s conversing with Ross, Angus and Banquo when he says to himself, “If good, why do I yield to that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs, against the use of nature? Present fears are less than horrible imaginings. My thought,whose murder yet is but fantastical, Shakes so my single state of man that function is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is but what is not.” As soon as Macbeth is informed of a possibility of becoming king he first imagines himself killing Duncan. This is before a plan is constructed and before the approval of Lady Macbeth which is a indication that Macbeth has had these evil ambitions deep down all along. The fantasy of Duncan’s murder is a warning that his desires will soon turn deadly.  

Lastly, as the story progresses Macbeth’s spiral into madness does as well. Another flaw that Macbeth suppresses in a peculiar way is that of guilt. Rather than giving into the guilt and accepting his punishment, Macbeth decides to continue his killing spree as a way of refusing to face what he has done. The guilt starts to interfere with Macbeth’s behaviour within minutes of King Duncan’s death. He explains, “One cried, “God bless us!” and “Amen” the other, As they had seen me with these hangman’s hands. List'ning their fear I could not say “Amen,”When they did say “God bless us!”. His inability to say amen was a representation of his guilt. He could not speak to god after committing such a heinous act. God is said to protect you, but if a sin is committed he will turn his back on you. This was perhaps the mindset of Macbeth who realized he would no longer be a child of god due to his sin of murder. His guilt begins to illustrate itself as hallucinations. Before he confesses his inability to say amen he envisions a floating dagger and says, “Is this a dagger which I see before me/ The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee / I have thee not, and yet I see thee still…”. He also states, “Whiles I threat, he lives / Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.” He is saying that while he remains there talking, King Duncan remains alive and his willingness to kill him is decreasing every moment he spends not murdering Duncan. Showing that his guilt is already starting to take over.  

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In summary, the three main flaws that were responsible for his untimely demise were paranoia, ambition and guilt. When combined the three make for a very deadly combination. Macbeth’s ambition lead him to look past his guilt and commit murder which in turn created more guilt, sending Macbeth on a murderous quest for power. This thirst for power and guilty killing gave Macbeth immense paranoia making him question his every decision and made him a borderline psychopath by the end of the play.

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Tragic Flaws Of Macbeth In Shakespeare’s Play. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from
“Tragic Flaws Of Macbeth In Shakespeare’s Play.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022,
Tragic Flaws Of Macbeth In Shakespeare’s Play. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 May 2024].
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