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The Tragedy and Despair of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

The Tragedy and Despair of Macbeth

Macbeth is one of the best known of Shakespeare’s plays. It is commonly classed, along with Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear, among Shakespeare’s four great tragedies. After reading Macbeth, several significant aspects of the play come to mind: the central characters (Lady Macbeth and her husband) and their development, the treatment of gender issues, the nature and conflict of good and evil, the final triumph of the forces of goodness and life, and the troubling implications of that triumph.

One way to approach the play’s leading characters is to see how they fit Aristotle’s ideas about tragedy. The problem with this approach is that they don’t fit Aristotle’s ideas very well. Aristotle wrote that a tragic character should be more good than evil and that the character’s fall should be the result of a mistake or misstep (the probable meaning of Aristotle’s term hamartia) rather than moral depravity. Lady Macbeth and her husband, by contrast, are more evil than good, and they deliberately commit or arrange several horribly depraved acts: among others, the murder of King Duncan, the murder of Macbeth’s friend Banquo, and the murder of Macduff’s wife and children. Their motives are purely selfish: they want power and all the personal benefits it will bring. It doesn’t look as if Aristotle’s ideas work very well at all in Macbeth.

But despite the fact that the play doesn’t fit the ideal Aristotelian mold (and Shakespeare probably had no intention that it should, anyway), looking at the play in this way sheds some light on it. We’re required to ask, “Is Macbeth purely evil? Is his wife?” The more closely I’ve looked at the play, the more I’ve become convinced that its power comes f…

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…tues we commonly associate with women and children — or with Christ — have not been given adequate attention.

Macbeth shows us characters who have succumbed to despair: Lady Macbeth, who comes to believe that “What’s done cannot be undone” (5.1.68), and Macbeth, who argues that, since “I am in blood/ Stepp’d in so far,” repentance is pointless: “should I wade no more,/ Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (3.4.135-37). The play shows these characters defeated, but not redeemed.

Works Cited

Cooke, Patricia. “Macbeth: Origin of Despair.” Online posting. 20 Nov. 1996. SHAKSPER: The Global Electronic Shakespeare Conference. 5 March 2001


Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 7th ed. New York: Longman, 1999.

Narration, Metaphors, Images and Symbols in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Narration, Metaphors, Images and Symbols in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

In 1962, when One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (the Nest), was published, America was at the start of decade that would be characterized by turmoil. Involvement in Vietnam was increasing, civil rights marches were taking place in the south and a new era of sexual promiscuity and drug use was about to come into full swing. Young Americans formed a subgroup in American society that historians termed the “counterculture”. The Nest is a product of time when it was written. It is anti-authoritarian and tells the tale of a man’s rebelling against the establishment. Kesey used metaphor to make a social commentary on the America of the sixties. In this paper I will deal with three issues that seem to strike out from the novel. First; is the choice that Kesey made in his decision to write the novel using first person narration. The second part of this paper will be an analysis of some of the metaphors and Kesey uses to describe America in the sixties. Finally I will speak about the some of the religious images that Kesey has put in the novel.

For the reader of the Nest, the most familiar character of the story would be Chief “Broom” Bromden, a half Indian, paranoid schizophrenic, who has been in the institution since World War two, (about 15 years). He spends his days dwelling in the clouded mind that his mental illness has produced. This illness is characterized by audio and visual hallucinations. He makes constant reference to the “fog,” “the combine,” and “the machine.” Bromden lives in a world inhabited by people who have been implanted with machines. In part one of the novel, we read nothing but the delusions of a madman.

The novel opens …

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…illan Company of Canada Limited, 1962.

Klein, Maxwell. The Images and Metaphors of Flower Children. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1988.

Kunz, Don. Mechanistic and Totemistic Symbolization in Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. A Casebook on Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Ed. George J. Searles. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 1989.

Pratt, John Clark. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. New York: The Viking Press. 1973.

Semino, Elena, and Swindlehurst, Kate. Metaphor and Mind Style in Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Northern Light (online posting) Spring 1996. <

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