Definitions of a Tragedy: Shakespeare's and Aristotle's

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In writing a tragedy, there are certain standards and guidelines to which an author or playwright must follow. One such standard is the Aristotelian definition of tragedy and the tragic hero. William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth is a perfect mold of an Aristotelian Tragedy. It displays all eight aspects of Aristotle’s definition of tragedy. It is set mainly in Scotland, but briefly in England during the eleventh century. It illuminates the ideal plot, in which the action of the story, or Macbeth’s murder of Duncan along with his meticulous planning of other murders, takes place over the course of several days in Scotland, particularly at Macbeth’s castle in Dunsinane. Shakespeare creates Macbeth to be the tragic hero of the play. Macbeth is first introduced as a brave and capable warrior of noble background, but as the play goes on, he turns into a murderous tyrant who continually displays self-doubt. Alas, Shakespeare describes the downfall of Macbeth, or his tragic flaw. Throughout the play, Macbeth is blinded by his ambition for the kingship, which often encompasses his immorality. Through careful evaluation of Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero, it can be concluded that The Tragedy of Macbeth is an example of an Aristotelian Tragedy.

Peripeteia, or reversal and discovery, is one of the key elements to an Aristotelian Tragedy. It is a turning point in a play or novel and the most powerful part of a plot. It contains a change of fortune and recognition of identity and nature. Macbeth sees visions and hallucinations throughout the play which serve as reminders of his tyrannical behavior. For instance, as Macbeth is about to kill Duncan, he sees a bloody dagger floating in the air, pointed towards Duncan’s chamber....

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...he events of the play, the actions of the characters, and the Aristotelian Tragedy seen within the play are all indicative of both free will and determinism. Every character throughout The Tragedy of Macbeth has his/her own free will. In some instances, one character has more influence over the other. For example, Lady Macbeth pleads with Macbeth over the murder of Duncan. She sees it as the only way in which Macbeth will become king, while Macbeth has his doubts. As the play proceeds, Macbeth begins to greatly influence those around him. He hires three murderers to kill Banquo and he tries to deceive those around him. Macbeth is driven by his ambition and determinism to be king. He will do anything to ensure that he is crowned King of Scotland. Macbeth’s tragic flaw results in his facing the consequences of his actions. He recognizes his failure as he faces death.

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