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The Character Flaws of Macbeth

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The Character Flaws of Macbeth

Since The Tragedy of Macbeth was written there has been speculation about the cause of Macbeth's downfall. Readers ponder whether Macbeth's fall was caused by a flaw in his character, Lady Macbeth, or an outside force of evil. Although the witches set a certain mood and Lady Macbeth exerts a certain influence on him, Macbeth's downfall is caused by his own character.

Macbeth's tragic flaw in character was the paradoxical pairing of his ambition with his passivity. Throughout the play we see many examples of Macbeth's conflict between his ambition to attain the crown and his passive attitude towards the actions that are required to obtain it. Macbeth's ambition is first illustrated in his susceptibility to the idea of becoming king, introduced by the witch's prophecies. When the witches greet Macbeth by saying, "All hail, Macbeth! That shall be king hereafter" ( I, iii, 50)

Banquo observes that Macbeth seems "rapt" (I, iii, 58) and Macbeth says, "Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more?say from whence you owe this strange intelligence??.Speak, I charge you" (71-79). As scholar A. C Bradley observes, "The words of the witches are fatal to [Macbeth] only because there is in him something which leaps into light at the sound of them" ( 289). However, this ambitious attitude soon changes to passivity when he realizes the grave actions that are required of him. The contrast between Macbeth's ambition and his passivity-caused by reluctance to do evil-is depicted clearly by his actions and thoughts that occur before he murders Duncan. Macbeth focuses on "the deterrent, not the incentives"; he is plagued by the "spectral bloody dagger" rather than the though...

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...o Macbeth, they point to the unfolding of his evil. He was ambitious enough to want to be king but not shrewd enough to have thought through the eventual consequences of his conniving.

Although there were many contributing factors to Macbeth's downfall, the primary cause was his own character flaw. His internal contradiction between ambition and passivity allowed him to become susceptible to the witches' prophecies and Lady Macbeth's wickedness and eventually led to his downfall and death.

Works Cited

Bradley, A.C. Shakespearean Tragedy. Fawcett Publications: Greenwich, Conn., 1965.

Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Oxford University Press: London, 1964.

Stoll, Elmer Edgar. "Source and Motive in Macbeth and Othello." Ed. Leonard F. Dean. Oxford University Press: New York, 1961, 282-93.
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