Shakespeare's Macbeth - Aristotelian Tragedy

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Macbeth: Aristotelian Tragedy

The definition of tragedy in an excerpt from Aristotle's "Poetics" is

the re-creation, complete within itself, of an important moral action. The

relevance of Aristotle's Poetics to Shakespeare's play Macbeth defines the

making of a dramatic tragedy and presents the general principles of the

construction of this genre.

Aristotle's attention throughout most of his Poetics is directed towards

the requirements and expectations of the plot. Plot, 'the soul of tragedy',

Aristotle says, must, be an imitation of a noble and complete action. In

Macbeth, Shakespear provides a complete action, that is it has what Aristotle

identifies as a beginning, a middle, and an end. These divisible sections must,

and do in the case of Macbeth, meet the criterion of their respective placement.

In an excerpt from Aristotle's "Poetics" it states:

"The separate parts into which tragedy is divided are: Prologue,

Episode, Exodus, Choric songs, this last being divided into Parodos and Stasimon.

The prologos is that entire part of a tragedy which precedes the Parodos of the

Chorus. The Episode is that entire part of a tragedy which is between complete

choric songs. The Exodos is that entire part of a tragedy which has no choric

song after it. Of the Choric part the Parodos is the first undivided utterance

of the Chorus." Shakespeare follows this precise arrangement of parts to tell

his story of Macbeth. Macbeth is divided into five acts. It contains a

Prologue, Episode, Exodus, Parodos and Stasimon, but is the only one of

Shakespeares plays that does not include Choric songs. This does not dismiss

Macbeth as a tragedy in the Aristotelian sense, because it still follows

Aristotle's fundamental component of a plot. That the arrangement of actions

and episodes arrange themselves into a 'causally connected', seamless whole.

The ideal arrangement of action into a plot is: Exposition, Inciting Action,

Rising Action, Turning Point(Climax), Falling Action, and Denouement. Macbeth

follows each of these steps while introducing a new question every moment that

keeps our interest. That is called dramatic tension, a very important part of a

tragedy: to keep the audiences attention at all times.

To make Macbeth's plot a complete action, according to Aristotle, the

story must contain an activating circumstance, a disclosure, and a reversal of

action. The activating circumstance in Macbeth is the three witches. Macbeth

and Banqou meet three witches that posses supernatural powers and predict the

two men's futures. It is part of the wicked sisters' role in the play to act as

the forces of fate. These hags lead Macbeth on to destroy himself. Their
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