Macbeth does not Follow Aristotle’s Standards for a TragedyThere have been many great tragic authors throughout history: Aeschylus, Euripides, and Sophocles from ancient Greece; Corneille and Hugo from France; Grillparzer and Schiller from Germany; and Marlowe, Webster, and Shakespeare from England. From this long list of men, Shakespeare is the most commonly known. Many Shakespearean critics agree that Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet are great tragedies. Many critics also claim that Macbeth is a tragedy, but if one follows Aristotle’s standards for a tragedy, Macbeth would not be a tragedy
To really determine if Macbeth is a tragedy according to Aristotle, one must first look at his guidelines. The majority of Aristotle’s standards relate to the downfall of the central character. To set the character up for a downfall, Aristotle thought he or she should be of the middle class. This was because he felt the poor had nothing to lose. He also felt the downfall should be caused by a fatal flaw. Another characteristic Aristotle believed was important, was a conflict between the central character and a close friend or relative. According to him, the main character should also have an enlightenment at the moment of his or her downfall. Aristotle also believed that the feelings of pity and fear should be felt by the audience during the play. He thought that these feelings would lead to a catharsis, or release of emotions. Although most of Aristotle’s characteristics of a tragedy had to do with the downfall, he had two that did not. First, he thought the central character should not be totally good or evil. This was based on the belief that the ruin of a totally good character would be too painful, and the ruin of a totally bad char…
… not even thank is wife for the plan that made him king. Due to Malcolm’s final speech, the reader is left with positive, not negative feelings.
Overall Macbeth is not a tragedy according the Aristotle’s standards. Macbeth’s downfall does follow the guidelines: he has something to lose, he has a downfall, and he has conflicts with his friends and relatives during his downfall. But, the heart of the play, which is the emotions created, just do not follow Aristotle’s standards. The reader should feel pity, and grieve. Yet, there is no reason to feel this way because Macbeth is all evil, and in the end, the “good guy” is restored to power. Shakespeare put forth good effort in trying to make Macbeth a tragedy, but he came up too short.
Shakespeare, William. “Macbeth.” The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Ed. David Bevington. New York: Longman, 1997.