Macbeth as a Tragic Hero: Shakespeare and Polanski

Macbeth Project Part I- The Tragic Hero Both Aristotle and Shakespeare included the presence of a rigid code of conduct in their definitions of “hero”, but they didn’t need them to be morally upright.

The inventory of people who could be heroes included sinners; the requirement to be nice is never even suggested by either, and “fitness of character” is more about determination and discipline than anything else. Aristotle preferred that the hero be “good or fine” in The Poetics, but he also implied that nobility of birth was enough to make someone a hero, as did serious responsibility, such as that of a king or general.He also preferred that they display greatness. He wanted the hero to stand above and apart from common folk, either by extraordinary talent or by exceptional temperament (although not necessarily pleasant).

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Shakespeare liked his heroes to be a “cut above” as well, but his collection of heroic characters are as remarkable for their diversity as they are for their deeds, perhaps more so. The point here is that the hero for both Aristotle and Shakespeare didn’t necessarily wear a white hat.We consider this as we track Macbeth’s trajectory from battlefield hero to cold-blooded murderer, a trajectory that leaves room for the argument that he is tragic because he is victimized by extraordinary elements (e. g. the witches or Lady Macbeth), but also allows the argument that the tragedy is in his runaway ambition, the classic character flaw that makes him much more a predator than a victim. The latter argument gains traction if we also consider Macbeth’s own words, as we see in the early insights Shakespeare offers into the inner or “real” person”.

For example, the enormity of the pending assassination weighs heavily on his sensibilities: And pity, like a naked new-born babe, Striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, horsed Upon the sightless couriers of the air, Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye That tears shall drown the wind. (1. 7. 21-25) Conversely, the first argument (Macbeth as a victim) is exemplified in the manipulative words of Lady Macbeth as she asserts her will, first by sexual taunt: Art though afeard To be the same in thine own act and valour As though art in desire?… When you durst do it, then you were a man (1. 7.

9-41,49) And then by sheer determination: I have given suck, and know How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me. I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn As you have done to this. (1.

7. 54-59) Argument two prevails, however, as the final scene takes us to the end of Macbeth’s trajectory. “Macbeth experiences a gradual hardening and deadening of the self until he reaches a state of absolute numbness. ” (Greenblatt p. 1347) Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow Creeps in this petty pace from day to dayTo the last syllable of recorded time. (5. 5. 18-20) By any definition, Macbeth is a hero as the play begins.

Already a thane, he fights valiantly for his king and is rewarded with a second thanage. The king’s ill-advised visit to his home adds to the honors he has earned for his bravery in battle. But like many a hero throughout history, his humanity has not been provisioned – although his devotion to his wife seems genuine.

He is a tragic hero because his story meets the basic criteria defined by both Aristotle and Shakespeare: * The story leads up to, and includes, the death of the hero.Macbeth is responsible for the calamity of his fall, although he recognizes this over the course of the play, not all at once at the end. * Supernatural elements (e. g. the witches) are present, as are hallucination (e. g.

the dagger, the ghost of Banquo). * External conflict (with Macduff) joins with Macbeth’s conflicted state of mind to provide impetus to his tragic arc. * He is a man of high estate with a tragic character flaw who murders friend and foe alike until the reality of the isolation he has promulgated ultimately destroys him, thereby fulfilling the three stage minimum for Tragic Pattern. The exposition in the first two acts tells us all we need to know about this man (as it does in Richard III). The second, third, and fourth acts serve as the hero’s journey, bridging the change in the hero from the first act to the fifth. Macduff’s’ response to Macbeth’s treachery begins in the fourth act as he learns that his wife and son have been murdered. Resolution is reached in the fifth act as Macduff beheads Macbeth and the son of King Duncan assumes the throne.

This is a complete tragic structure.Adding the adjective tragic to hero sounds simple enough, but simple doesn’t always mean easy. Shakespeare just makes it look that way. Part II – The Movie It can be argued that filming a live stage play by simply positioning a camera in or behind the audience should yield the same result as seeing the play in person. After all, we sit in one seat throughout the play. But not long after Sennet and DeMille began making films, the effects that could be achieved with both movable and multiple cameras added a texture to films that the public expects and demands to this day.

A classic play like Macbeth becomes a good to great film when the director figures out that what he is doing is putting on the play on a hectare-size stage. His or her interpretation is vital to the success of the film, otherwise we would have hundreds of film versions of Shakespeare instead of just dozens. Polanski’s interpretation is clearly unique. So unique, in fact, that Roger Ebert gave the film a “thumbs up” but had this to say in his review in 1971: “Macbeth always before seemed reasonable, dealing with a world in which wrongdoing was punished and logic demonstrated.Macbeth’s character was not strong enough to stand up under the weight of the crime he committed, so he disintegrated into the fantasies of ignorant superstition, while his flimsy wife went mad. It all seemed so clear.

And at the proper moment, the forces of justice stepped forward, mocked the witches’ prophecies which deluded poor Macbeth and set things right for the final curtain. There were, no doubt, those who thought the play was about how Malcolm became king of Scotland. But in this film Polanski and his collaborator, Kenneth Tynan, place themselves at Macbeth’s side and choose to share his point of view, nd in their film there’s no room at all for detachment. All those noble, tragic Macbeths — Orson Welles and Maurice Evans and the others — look like imposters now, and the king is revealed as a scared kid. No effort has been made to make Macbeth a tragic figure, and his death moves us infinitely less than the murder of Macduff’s young son. Polanski places us in a visual universe of rain and mist, of gray dawns and clammy dusks, and there is menace in the sound of hoofbeats but no cheer in the cry of trumpets.Even the heroic figure of Macduff has been tempered; now he is no longer the instrument of God’s justice, but simply a man bent on workaday revenge.

The movie ends with the simple fact that a job has been done: Macbeth got what was coming to him. ” What Roger is saying is that Polanski turned Shakespeare into just a writer. The play in its classic form serves as scaffolding for the kind of graphic, moody film that he likes to make. I agree completely. Macbeth’s soliloquies, for example, are turned into voice-over articulation of his thoughts.With one or two exceptions, he never talks to us; we are instead allowed to eavesdrop on his thinking. There are also many Hollywood touches to the film. The actors are experienced but not stars.

Comic relief is interjected as the porter pees against the wall before answering Macduff’s knock. The witch’s coven features topless hags. We see Lady Macbeth as sleepwalking nude.

The most famous lines are left largely intact as far as the audio is concerned, but there are several places where the lines continue as flashbacks and cutaways occur. With the exception of the final act, Shakespeare left the murders to our imagination. I still haven’t figured out whether it was Macbeth or Lady Macbeth who killed the chamberlains. ) Polanski, on the other hand, may have succeeded in providing every possible gory detail of the murder scenes. Macbeth fights off several assailants at once as if he were a medieval Bruce Lee. Ebert is right. If I had never heard of Macbeth before I saw this movie, I would still enjoy the period costumes and sweeping cinematography, struggle with the dialogue – and rely on the visual to understand the story – and recommended it as a movie worth seeing.It’s another way to tell a timeless story, and its intensity is a production value that many filmmakers seek, but few find.

Bibliography: Shakespeare, William, Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Andrew Gurr. The Norton Shakespeare: Essential Plays, the Sonnets. New York: W. W. Norton &, 2009. Print. Macbeth.

Dir. Roman Polanski. Perf. Jon Finch and Francesca Annis. Columbia Pictures, 1971/1999. DVD.