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 decide: 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 argument.

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 done. In Act 2, Scene 2, Macbeth confides in Lady Macbeth
after the murder of Duncan: But wherefore could not I pronounce "Amen"?

I had most need of blessing, and "Amen" Stuck in my throat. and:

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,