Macbeth: Tragedy or Satire?

Macbeth: Tragedy or Satire?

William Shakespeare wrote four great tragedies, the last of which
was written in 1606 and titled Macbeth. This "tragedy", as it is considered
by societal critics of yesterday's literary world, scrutinizes the evil
dimension of conflict, offering a dark and gloomy atmosphere of a world
dominated by the powers ofdarkness. Macbeth, more so than any of

Shakespeare's other tragic protagonists, has to face the powers and
should he succumb or should he resist? Macbeth understands the reasons for
resisting evil and yet he proceeds with a disastrous plan, instigated by the
prophecies of the three Weird Sisters. Thus we must ask the question:

If Macbeth is acting on the impulses stimulated by the prophecies of his fate,
is this Shakespearean work of art really a Tragedy?

Aristotle, one of the greatest men in the history of human thought,
interpreted Tragedy as a genre aimed to present a heightened and
harmonious imitation of nature, and, in particular, those aspects of nature
that touch most closely upon human life. This I think Macbeth attains.

However, Aristotle adds a few conditions.

According to Aristotle, a tragedy must have six parts: plot, character,
diction, thought, spectacle, and song. Most important is the plot, the
structure of the incidents. Tragedy is not an imitation of men, but of
action and life. It is by men's actions that they acquire happiness or
sadness. Aristotle stated, in response to Plato, that tragedy produces a
healthful effect on the human character through a katharsis, a "proper
purgation" of "pity and terror." A successful tragedy, then, exploits and
appeals at the start to two basic emotions: fear and pity. Tragedy deals
with the element of evil, with what we least want and most fear to face,
and with what is destructive to human life and values. It also draws out
our ability to sympathize with the tragic character, feeling some of the
impact of the evil ourselves. Does Macbeth succeed at this level? Can the
reader feel pity and terror for Macbeth? Or does the reader feel that

Macbeth himself is merely a branch from the root of all evil and not the
poor, forsaken, fate-sunken man, according to Aristotle's idea of tragedy,
he is supposed to portray? Can the reader "purge" his emotions of pity and
fear by placing himself in the chains of fate Macbeth has been imprisoned
in? Or does he feel the power and greed upon which Macbeth thrives,
prospers, and finally falls? I believe the latter is the more likely
reaction, and that the reader sees Macbeth as a bad guy, feeling little or
no pity for him.

Aristotle also insists that the main character of a tragedy must have
a "tragic flaw." Most tragedies fail, according to Aristotle, due to the
rendering of character. To allow the character to simply be a victim of
unpredictable and undeserved calamities would violate the complete, self-
contained unity of action in the tragedy. If that is so, and if we assume
that the group of three witches is a realistic possibility, then is not

Macbeth such a victim? Does he really deserve the misfortune that is
brought him by his fortune? After all, Macbeth is introduced to the reader
as an honest and humble leader. His fate, once having been revealed to him,
drives him to greed, elevates his lust for power, and coins a conceited
and misguided trust in his seemingly eternal mortality. Diction, the
expression of the meaning in words, is near perfect in Macbeth, simply
because it is written by William Shakespeare, the inventor of perfect
diction. Thought--the task of saying what is possible and pertinent in
the circumstances of the play--can not be disputed. Spectacle and Song are
the effects that highlight the play, and are pertinent in providing an
emotional attraction. Such elements are easily found in Shakespeare.

Macbeth is written with the style and grace that only Shakespeare could
provide. Thus, these elements of tragic drama can not be challenged in this

While we need to consider that Macbeth strives on power, and in doing
so loses his values of humility and humanity, it should not be forgotten
that Macbeth does, at certain times, feel remorse for things he has

In Act 2, Scene 2, Macbeth confides in Lady Macbeth after the murder of


But wherefore could not I pronounce "Amen"?

I had most need of blessing, and "Amen"

Stuck in my throat.

Methought I heard a voice cry "Sleep no more!

Macbeth does murder sleep," the innocent sleep,

Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,

The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,

Chief nourisher in life's feast--

Macbeth shall sleep no more. In this scene, he shows great