The Hero? In Macbeth
The tragedy Macbeth highlights an ambivalent character who wants to be king. This paper will take a close look at his character.
Samuel Johnson in The Plays of Shakespeare states that every reader rejoices at the fall of Macbeth (133).
In Shakespeare and Tragedy John Bayley talks about Macbeth as a responsible agent for his actions:
It is essential to the hypnotic tension of the play that Macbeth should not seem in any ordinary way 'responsible' for his actions. Not only the witches but every other agency is like a portent or apparition - pity striding the blast, heaven's cherubim, the lamentations heard in the air, the voice that cried 'Sleep no more' - do not so much personify the haunted imagination of Macbeth as act as separate and rival powers, distracting us from the difference between the usurper and murderer and the mind which has drawn us in. [. . .] It is the feeling shared by both Macbeth and the audience, that something has 'come for' him, that the secure world of thought and possibility, of the individual self with its desires and secrets, has gone beyond recall. (191)
In "Macbeth as the Imitation of an Action" Francis Fergusson considers how Macbeth fully understands the irrationality of his deed:
I do not need to remind you of the great scenes preceding the murder, in which Macbeth and his Lady pull themselves together for their desperate effort. If you think over these scenes, you will notice that the Macbeths understand the action which begins here as a competition and a stunt, against reason and against nature. Lady Macbeth fears her husband's human nature, as well as her own female nature, and therefore she fears the light of reason and the common daylight world. As for Macbeth, he knows from the first that he is engaged in an irrational stunt: "I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself / And falls on the other." (108)
In Everybody's Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack shows how Macbeth complements his wife:
Her fall is instantaneous, even eager, like Eve's in Paradise Lost; his is gradual and reluctant, like Adam's. She needs only her husband's letter about the weyard sisters' prophecy to precipitate her resolve to kill Duncan. Within an instant she is inviting murderous spirits to unsex her, fill her with cruelty, thicken her blood, convert her mother's milk to gall, and darken the world "That my keen knife see not the wound it makes" (1.5.50). Macbeth, in contrast, vacillates. The images of the deed that possess him simultaneously repel him (1.3.130, 1.7.1) When she proposes Duncan's murder, he temporizes: "We will speak further" (1.5.69). (189)
Lily B. Campbell in her volume of criticism, Shakespeare's Tragic Heroes: Slaves of Passion, explores the workings of Macbeth's mind as he plots the destruction of Banquo and son :