What Is Macbeth’s Tragic Flaw

Macbeth’s tragic flaw is his ambition. This fatal character trait leads him to make choices that result in his downfall. Macbeth is a brave and skilled warrior, but it is his ambition that drives him to commit murder and seize the throne of Scotland. This ultimately leads to his undoing, as Macbeth becomes a tyrannical ruler who is eventually overthrown and killed.

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a tragedy that teaches a lesson about the dangers of ambition. The play shows how Macbeth’s tragic flaw leads him down a path of destruction and ultimately results in his death. As such, Macbeth serves as a warning to all who would let ambition consume them.

A hero’s tragic flaw is usually one of Aristotle’s twelve vices. In Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, Macbeth, a renowned Scottish general and thane of Glamis, has just won a vital battle when three witches inform him he will become king of Scotland after being crowned hane of Cawdor.

Macbeth is not content with his position and, goaded on by his ambitious wife, Macbeth murders King Duncan in order to take the throne. Macbeth’s tragic flaw is ambition, which causes him to make decisions without thinking about the consequences.

Aristotle believed that a protagonist must have a fatal flaw in order for their downfall to be believable and tragic. In Macbeth, Macbeth’s fatal flaw is his ambition, which blinded him from seeing the possible negative outcomes of his actions. For example, after Macbeth murdered Duncan, he became paranoid and began seeing hallucinations of a dagger pointing at his victim’s body. Macbeth’s ambition also led him to make irrational decisions, such as ordering the murder of Macduff’s family. In the end, Macbeth’s ambition led to his downfall and death at the hands of Macduff.

While Macbeth’s ambition is what leads to his tragic downfall, it is important to note that he is not an evil person. Macbeth is a brave and noble man who is respected by those around him. It is only when his ambition gets the best of him that he makes bad decisions. If Macbeth had been content with his position, he would have never murdered Duncan and ultimately met his demise.

When Macbeth is given Cawdor by King Duncan, he believes the witches’ claims and plots against him with his wife. When Duncan appears at Macbeth’s castle that night, Macbeth kills him and takes the crown for himself after Duncan’s sons flee from Scotland.

When Macduff returns with Malcolm and the forces of England, he has Macbeth murdered. People frequently read the play and immediately jump to the conclusion that Macbeth’s fatal flaw is his ambition; that he is driven by his lust for power to commit mass murder.

There are several points in the play, however, that suggest Macbeth’s tragic flaw is not ambition but rather his conscience. Macbeth’s conscience allows his ambition to overcome him because he feels guilty about his crimes.

Macbeth’s first soliloquy in Act 1, Scene 7 reveals his uncertainty about whether or not he should kill Duncan. Macbeth has been told by the witches that he will be king and he knows that in order for this to happen, Duncan must die. He also knows that killing Duncan would go against everything he believes in as a human being and a loyal subject. Macbeth says:

If it were done when ’tis done, then it were well

It was done quickly: if the assassination

Could trammel up the consequence, and catch

With his surcease success; that but this blow

Might be the be-all and the end-all–here,

But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,–

We’d jump the life to come. But in these cases

We still have judgment here; that we but teach

Bloody instructions, which are being taught return

To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice

Commends the ingredients of our poisoned chalice

To our own lips. He then goes on to say: I have no spur

To prick the sides of my intent, but only

Vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself

And falls on the other–(1.7.1-28)

Macbeth is clearly conflicted about killing Duncan. He knows it is wrong but his ambition for power is greater. Macbeth’s conscience continues to plague him and in Act 2, Scene 1 he has a second soliloquy in which he again debates whether or not he should go through with the murder. Macbeth says:

I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?

I laid their daggers ready; he could not miss ’em.

Had he not resembled

My father as he slept, I had don’t. My hand, my hand!

Aha! their daggers! they stick him! See! their daggers!


Macbeth is clearly disturbed by what he has done. He hears a noise and believes it is the dead king coming to haunt him. Macbeth is so disturbed by his actions that he tries to wash the blood off his hands. Macbeth’s conscience continues to bother him and in Act 3, Scene 2 he has a third soliloquy in which he again debates whether or not he should kill Banquo. Macbeth says:

The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be

Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see.


Macbeth is again conflicted about his actions. He knows he should not kill Banquo but his ambition for power is greater. Macbeth’s conscience continues to plague him and in Act 3, Scene 4 he has a fourth soliloquy in which he again debates whether or not he should kill Macduff’s family. Macbeth says:

I am afraid to think what I have done;

Look don’t again I dare not.

The first act, on the other hand, exposes Macbeth’s flaw that drove his ambition. His true tragic fault is his confidence in the witches’ promises and in his wife’s judgments, not his ambition as most people believe. Macbeth does not have any ambitions for the throne until his wife comes up with a plan at the start of the play.

Macbeth’s trust in the witches is also what starts his downfall. If Macbeth had not believed their prophecies, he would never have killed Duncan and started down the path of tyranny. So, Macbeth’s tragic flaw is not his ambition, but rather his gullibility which leads him to believe the words of others and make poor decisions. Macbeth’s gullibility allows his ambition to take over, and this ultimately leads to his downfall.

While Macbeth’s tragic flaw is not directly ambition, it is important to note that without ambition there can be no tragedy. In order for a character to be truly tragic, they must first have a tragic flaw and then fall from a great height. Macbeth’s fall from grace is precipitated by his trust in others, and his ambition is what allows him to rise to such great heights in the first place. So while Macbeth’s tragic flaw is not ambition, it is still an important part of his character.

Macbeth is a tragic hero because he has a tragic flaw that leads to his undoing. Macbeth’s tragic flaw is his trust in others and his ambition. These two characteristics lead to his downfall because he makes poor decisions based on the words of others and he strives for power even when it is not rightfully his. Macbeth’s gullibility and ambition are what make him a tragic hero.

Macbeth is not a typical tragic hero because his downfall is not a result of his own actions or choices. Macbeth’s downfall is precipitated by the actions and words of others. He trusts the witches too much and he lets his ambition get the best of him. Macbeth is a tragic hero because he has a tragic flaw that leads to his undoing, even though his downfall is not entirely his own fault.

When first confronted with the witches’ words, Macbeth exclaims in astonishment and is more incredulous than willing to accept them when he says, “… no more than to be Cawdor … ” (1. 3. 73-75). When faced with the witches’ prophecy that he will become king, Macbeth behaves as a loyal subject would; not as a man harboring secret ambitions in his heart. Because he has no reason to conceal his true feelings at this time, it can be assumed that Macbeth has not yet truly considered murdering the king.

Macbeth’s first soliloquy at the beginning of Act 1, Scene 7 reveals his great ambition and desire to be king. Macbeth’s fatal flaw is his vaulting ambition which finally leads him to his tragic downfall.

Macbeth’s tragic flaw is not simply that he kills Duncan or Banquo; it is that he does so driven by his own ambition. Macbeth’s actions lead directly to his downfall because he was not content with what he had, but rather wanted more power. The witches may have planted the seeds of ambition in Macbeth’s mind, but it was Macbeth who let those ambitions grow and consume him. In the end, Macbeth’s tragic flaw is his undoing.

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