Shakespeare Tragic Heroes: Macbeth and Brutus
Shakespeare Tragic Heroes: Macbeth and Brutus
William Shakespeare is a world renowned English poet and playwright famous for many tragic plays such as Macbeth and Julius Caesar. These two plays both contain tragic heroes with Marcus Brutus from Julius Caesar, and Macbeth from Macbeth. A tragic hero is defined as a protagonist of high standing with heroic or potential heroic abilities who must oppose some external or internal force. A tragic hero needs to have a “tragic flaw” where a character has too much or too little of one of Aristotle’s twelve virtues. Macbeth and Brutus are both considered tragic heroes but have many similarities as well as differences.
Firstly, Macbeth and Brutus acted for different reasons but they both got caught in situations that they couldn’t escape from. Brutus truly and honestly believed that he had to kill Julius Caesar to give the Romans a better life and he proves this when he says, “To prick us to redress? What other bond then secret Romans, that have spoke the word, And will not palter? And that other oath then honesty to honesty engaged that this shall be, or we will fall for it”. Meanwhile, Macbeth merely killed left and right for his own gain, starting with the murder of the king, Duncan.
Macbeth killed many people he loved including his best friend, Banquo, and the families of his opponents; therefore, he was merciless with men, women, and children all being the same to him. Macbeth was caught up in his own evil plans to obtain the throne that he didn’t even feel anything after his first kill; he started hiring murderers to do his dirty deeds for him instead. Brutus only killed his best friend, Caesar, because it was the only death that he thought was necessary. In the end, Macbeth and Brutus ended up in similar situations where they lost their power and their lives.
Secondly, Macbeth and Brutus are both similar and different when it comes to their personalities. Both tragic heroes have the same flaw in their natures of being too trusting of others; therefore, it leads them to have a lust for power and it concluded in both their deaths. Macbeth was too trusting of the witches and his wife despite how terrible or evil their ideas were. He was also too willing to trust his destiny in the hands of others and if he hadn’t been so gullible, perhaps he wouldn’t have turned into such an evil man.
Brutus was too trusting of the conspirators when they told him of how his best friend, Caesar, was going to rule Rome with tyranny when he is crowned emperor. The tragic heroes’ trustful natures lead to their lust for power and ambition. Once Brutus joined the conspirators, he immediately took over and would not settle for second-in-command. Macbeth’s ambition also helped lead to the moral decline of his character along with his lust for power.
Thirdly, Macbeth and Brutus both had guilty consciences about the murders they caused; therefore, both men had their worries portrayed in the form of ghosts. At the beginning of Macbeth, Macbeth had a very guilty conscience about killing Duncan and started to get apparitions of Banquo when he murdered him as well. The ghost of Banquo could’ve been a sign that Macbeth unconsciously regretted killing his best friend even though Macbeth had already become a cruel man at that point of the play. However, towards the end of the play, when facing Macduff, Macbeth seemed to regret his actions and was unwilling to kill when he said, “But get back, my soul is too much charg’d with blood of thine already.” (Macbeth, Act V, Scene viii, Lines 5-6).
Brutus also faced the ghost of Julius Caesar due to his guilt conscious, although this ghost was probably just a hallucination from Brutus’s subconscious. Macbeth wouldn’t accept his feelings about murdering Banquo and was almost driven to madness by it while Brutus acknowledged Caesar’s ghost because he knew that he had done a dishonorable act and would be haunted. There is also the possibility that Macbeth and Brutus were faced with real ghosts since many of Shakespeare’s plays revolved around the idea of the supernatural; therefore, they might have been haunted by real ghosts from their murders.
Fourthly, Macbeth and Brutus had extreme influence and manipulation from outside sources that caused the degeneration of these characters from noble men to tragic heroes. Before the death of King Duncan, Macbeth was a true hero, fresh from a victory on the battlefield and not harboring any desires to gain the throne. At first, when faced with the witches’ predictions, he responds the way a loyal subject would, not like man who aspires to take over Scotland; “…to be King stands not within the prospect of belief, no more than to be Cawdor…” (Macbeth, Act I, Scene iii, Lines 73-5). Also, Brutus was an honorable man with promise, ability, and was loyal to Rome. Both Macbeth and Brutus were good men until they had influence from the outside that caused the start of their degeneration into darkness. Macbeth had influence from his wife, Lady Macbeth, who was the one that urged him to kill Duncan and seize the throne for his own.
She thought that he was much too kind to kill the king; “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be what thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature; it is too full o’ the milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way.” (Lady Macbeth, Act I, Scene v, Lines 14-7). Macbeth was very nervous and against the idea of killing Duncan until Lady Macbeth persuaded him into doing it by questioning his manhood and threatening to leave him if he didn’t do it. Brutus was manipulated by a conspirator named Cassius, who planted fake letters from people fearing Caesar’s power around Brutus’s home to get him to ally with him. Without the influence from others, Macbeth and Brutus could have remained loyal men of high status and could’ve prevented unnecessary bloodshed.
Lastly, Macbeth and Brutus both died tragically in the end, but they died in ways that make the two completely different from each other. Macbeth was killed against his own will in the end, after losing everyone and everything he had and when the prophecies that had brought him comfort turned against him. Once Macbeth was killed, peace was restored to Scotland and people rejoiced over the death of their previous king. On the other hand, Brutus died an honorable death of his own accord and was thought of as a great man by everyone around him. He committed suicide after losing the battle by impaling himself onto his own sword and he died peacefully, hoping that Caesar was now satisfied; “Farewell Strato. Caesar now be still. I killed not thee with half so good a will.”
When Brutus died, the opposing army approached and one of the leaders, Antony, stood over Brutus’s body and said, “This was the noblest Roman of them all. All the conspirators save only he– did that they did in envy of great Caesar; He, only in general honest thought– and common good to all, made one of them. His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up– And say to all the world, ‘This was a man!”. Brutus died as a proud warrior of Rome while Macbeth died as a hated tyrant of Scotland. Their deaths were what really made the difference between Macbeth and Brutus even though they’re both Shakespearean tragic heroes.
In conclusion, Macbeth and Brutus have many differences and similarities but they’re both tragic heroes due to the flaws in their nature. They both had the same trustful natures which lead to their lust for power and then their deaths. Macbeth and Brutus were two completely different people when it came to their personalities because Macbeth was truly evil while Brutus was a genuinely good man. Both men could not escape the inevitable end because it is their destiny to fall as tragic heroes.