Macbeth’s Hamartia: The Role Of Ambition In His Downfall

Understanding Macbeth’s Stature as a Tragic Hero

There is a multitude of factors that show us that Macbeth’s character is the perfect description of a tragic hero. However, before discussing these factors, it is essential to understand the characteristics of a tragic hero. A tragic hero is a figure in a dramatic tragedy that has, at the beginning of the play, a high social status, noble stature, and greatness but also embodies nobility and virtue.

Even though the tragic hero is great, they are not perfect, allowing the audience to sympathize with their human nature; because they are not perfect like us, they have tragic flaws. This flaw will get the tragic hero to an even higher position in society, but from then the tragic hero will be mostly the architect of their downfall. They must face the consequences of their actions, leading to their downfall and, essentially, their death as a tragic end. This description is perfect for the character of Macbeth.

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Macbeth’s Initial Noble Image and Reputation

In the early stage of the play, Macbeth is introduced to us as a character with noble stature. He has earned the title of Thane of Glamis and is a well-known general who is fighting for his land against the rebel Macdonald – the Thane of Cawdor and the army of Norway’s King at this moment, while his superiors are meeting together in Act 1 Scene 2. His Captain praises his abilities as a soldier on the battlefield and how he killed the rebel Macdonald in single combat. “He carved out his passage/Till he faced the enslaved person unseamed him from the nave to the chops/ And fixed his head upon our battlements. “His Captain and the Thane of Ross praising him more and more with things like “Brave Macbeth/ That Bellona’s bridegroom, lapped in proof. “and King Duncan praising him as “valiant cousin, worthy gentleman. “- unaware of the destiny Macbeth will bring him later in the play.

This shows us that Macbeth has specific qualities such as bravery, loyalty, and strength, but his superiors do not praise him to please him. He is absent, so they have no need to glorify his actions this way, but because they do it, the compliments are far more credible. This reinforces that Macbeth fulfills the first factor of being a tragic hero with a high social status/ reputation.

The Unraveling of Macbeth: Ambition and its Consequences

When we first meet Macbeth, he is represented as the stereotypical hero – the ideal warrior fighting for his land with little regard for his safety, who does everything to protect his country. He fulfills the expectation of masculinity in this period and proves his manhood. However, his tragic flaw is his ambition, which leads him to go after what he wants, regardless of the consequences. This flaw let the tragedy start, and various factors stirred up his burning ambition to be king and gain power, which would later become an obsession to remain in his position as king.

After the Witches tell Macbeth about his bright future as king in Scotland in Act 1 Scene 3, his noble and honorable stature fades more and more away and gets replaced by a “by any means necessary “stature. However, this fade in his attitude comes not just from the promising words from the witches and his ambition to become king and gain power. No, his lust for power, along with the manipulating words of Lady Macbeth, leads him to take a violent and bloody path to the throne, including murdering his cousin, the “gracious “King Duncan, as Macbeth calls him in the play.

Lady Macbeth’s words influence Macbeth’s ambition, which was not this strong before and could maybe not get that intense for a longer time, but then he became Thane of Cawdor as the Witches told him, and the dream to become king seems not too distant anymore. Her words lead him to kill Duncan, even though he lists reasons against the murder, but he interrupts himself and listens to his wife’s words and his ambition for power and kingship. So he says to himself, “But only Vaulting ambition which overleaps itself And falls on the other. “with these words, he recognizes that his ambition could bring him his downfall.

Further illustrating Macbeth also fulfills the second factor of being a tragic hero because he has this tragic flaw, which will cause him his downfall, even though his flaw elevated him first to the position of the most powerful man in Scotland.


  1. Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Edited by John A. Smith, Oxford University Press, 2005.

Hamlet’s Indecision: The Central Catalyst Of Tragedy In Shakespeare’s Masterpiece

Hamlet’s Indecisiveness and the Emotional Struggle

Hamlet’s tragic flaw is his inability to act at certain times. This causes him to over-analyze each situation, making him unable to respond. This is clear in the play by the frequent delay in acting out his father’s revenge due to the uncertainty of the evidence of his Uncle’s crime. In his soliloquy, he contemplates whether or not to commit suicide. Hamlet himself questions whether it is to be or not to be.

In Act Three, Scene One, Hamlet questions which act is more noble. Is it more noble to suffer from wrong deeds that one has done unto one, or is it more noble to end the suffering by fighting? In this soliloquy, it is clear that Hamlet is torn between what is more noble, as it states in his soliloquy. ‘To be, or not to be, that is the question. Is it nobler in mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune Or to fight against a sea of troubles, And end them by fighting?’ The people around him cause Hamlet’s unhappiness. His mother’s actions of marrying her brother-in-law made Hamlet extremely frustrated, drawing him out of the right mental state. Also, his view of his father is godlike, but he distrusts the Ghost enough to think about killing himself instead of pursuing the Ghost’s request.

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Actions Stemming from Uncertainty

Based on what he knows, he is unsure that his Uncle Claudius murdered his father. Who could do such a thing? Murdering someone goes against instincts. How could Hamlet’s Uncle Claudius kill his brother? That goes against the goodness of nature and the bonds of brotherhood. Hamlet must be sure of Claudius’ guilt before he can decide to retaliate. When Hamlet learns of his Uncle’s guilt, again, murder does not come naturally to Hamlet. He also is not sure how to go about the murder.

Hamlet desires to avenge his father’s death, but the exactness of the murder is unclear to Hamlet. Hamlet must consider that he could die while trying to murder Claudius. Hamlet is stressed over his own father’s murder, but he has to plan the right way to murder his Uncle Claudius.  At one point, he thought he had murdered Claudius. However, it turned out to be Polonius rather than Claudius. The murder of Polonius only complicates things for Hamlet because of his love for Ophelia.

Moreover, lastly, Hamlet has to find the perfect plan and the perfect time to murder Claudius. He does not desire to die in the process. So he comes up with a plan, as do Claudius and Laertes. Hamlet plans to poison King Claudius’ wine cup, while Claudius and Laertes plan to poison the tip of Laertes’s sword and stab Hamlet, causing him to die a slow and painful death. Hamlet did find the perfect time to kill Claudius. However, alas, it happens while Hamlet is dying himself. Ultimately, Hamlet is far more than an outstanding example of a revenge play. It is, to begin, a tragedy in which the fulfillment of justice entails the avenging hero’s death.


  1. Shakespeare, W. (1603). Hamlet. London: Nicholas Ling and John Trundell.

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