Shakespearean Tragedy Macbeth is a tragedy. According to Aristotle, the tragic hero was a man who rose to a high position and then fell---usually to utter death and desolation. Two forces seem equally powerful in classical tragedy: the tragic flaw (hamartia) and fate. By the Renaissance, people believed they were in more control of their fate. The Elizabethan tragic hero, therefore, is much more responsible for his own downfall. The “waste of human potential” seemed tragic to the audience.
Order and Disorder in Shakespeare Many of Shakespeare’s plays revolve around one common theme: disorder. In each play, the reader must consider how disorder is represented in that play, how order is restored over the course of the events, and what effect of this new order is. Act I (the exposition) is usually used to establish that at one point in the play’s events there was a social order.
Order and Disorder, con’t The resolution of Shakespeare’s tragedies is different from the celebratory atmosphere that signals the end of his comedies (the marriages in A Midsummer Night’s Dream). In a tragedy, the play ends with the death of the main character, who has spent the entire play trying to gain control of the conflict that he himself has created. NOTE: The character who delivers the last line in a Shakespearean tragedy is the person who will restore the shattered order.
Frye’s Theory of Tragedy Encroachment Complication Reversal (Peripeteia) Catastrophe Recognition (Anagnorisis)
Background to Macbeth 1603 – new monarch ascended the throne after Elizabeth I James VI of Scotland, who was to become James I of England Interest in all things Scottish Raphael Holinshed – History of Scotland – material for a tragedy In Scottish history of the 11 th century, Shakespeare found a spectacle of violence Macbeth – first published 1623
Background to Macbeth Macbeth is the last of the four “ great tragedies, ” and perhaps the darkest. Intensive study of evil at work in the individual and in the world at large Celebrates the establishment of the first Stuart king of England Holinshed ’ s account of the reigns of Duncan and Macbeth (1034 – 57)
“ All Things Scottish ” the slaughter of whole armies and of innocent families the assassination of kings the ambush of nobles by murderers the brutal execution of traitors stories of witches and wizards providing advice to traitors Shakespeare appealing to the new interests in London brought about by James ’ s kingship
Characters Macbeth – “ vaulting ambition ” – perversely ambitious, weak, vulnerable, insecure tragic hero Lady Macbeth – wicked, ambitious, and manipulative (perhaps the fourth witch) Banquo – general in Duncan ’ s army; Macbeth ’ s closest friend – literary foil for Macbeth in the play Duncan – the king of Scotland
Imagery Blood imagery – not only a literal sign of disorder but an metaphor for Macbeth ’ s evil Seeds and plants imagery – sowing the seeds of new power Instruments of darkness – witches Baby imagery – birth of Macbeth ’ s ascendancy to power Illness imagery – illness in the body politic and mental illness Night, colors, weather, sleep
Paradox “ Fair is foul, and foul is fair. ” Reversals – unnaturalness – mirrors the unnaturalness in Scotland Physical appearance of the witches Lady Macbeth ’ s desire for a gender transformation – sexual inversions disharmony in nature and in man
Literary Foils Macbeth and Banquo established as literary foils Macbeth – attracted to temptations and predictions of witches Banquo – suspicious of witches
Major Questions Why do people do evil knowing that it is evil??? Why does Macbeth commit evil? (due to fate, his wife, his ambition) Why does Macbeth fall?