Where Does Macbeth Show Pride?
Pride may not be a characteristic that comes readily to mind when considering Macbeth. His pride in Scotland vanishes when the witches predict his kingship, an act which initiates another kind of pride; his pride in battle is long past when the play begins. However, he shows streaks of pride as a ruler, as a dupe of the supernatural and as an Aristotelian tragic figure.
Early in the play, there are glimmers of Macbeth's pride as a husband, when calls his wife "dearest partner of greatness" and as a subject, when he tells Duncan "the loyalty I owe, in doing it, pays itself." But in Act 3, once he kills Duncan to take his place as king, Macbeth speaks of "my Genius" and begs fate to "champion me to the utterance." He also uses the royal "we" when he speaks of "our innocent self" in Act 1, and again when he flatters his guests in Act 3: "Ourself will mingle with society and play the humble host." Kingly pride rules him entirely.
Once the witches pronounce that "none of woman born" can hurt him, Macbeth's pride in his supposed supernatural powers infects his very sanity. Harold Bloom notes that Macbeth has the self-pride to defy all nature "as he imagines it"; certainly Macbeth imagines his immortal nature with pure hubris, which Aristotle considered a god-defying pride. "I cannot taint with fear," he cries when his soldiers desert him in Act 5; he later declares, "I will not be afraid of death and bane," and "swords I smile at, weapons laugh to scorn / Brandished by man that's of a woman born."
Aristotelian hubris in a tragic hero gives way to catharsis, the emotional cleansing that ends a tragedy, and here Macbeth achieves a dignified, human sense of pride. Defeated and hopeless, he announces to Macduff that "I will not yield.... / Yet will I try the last.... / Lay on, Macduff, and damn'd be him that first cries 'Hold, enough!'" In this remarkable pronouncement, his last words, Macbeth recovers his pride both as man and warrior, declares his ability to fight in the face of despair and takes away any chance of shame and surrender.
Recovery of Human Pride
In "Shakespeare After All," Marjorie Garber calls Macbeth's end-game confrontation with mortality a "real recovery," indicating that Shakespeare has manifested, in one character, glimpses of several kinds of pride: the hubris that first hurls us into sin and error, the false pride that keeps us secure in our evil, and finally the recovering, human pride of self in the face of death, our ultimate redemption. This true sense of pride casts out the others, redeeming Macbeth at least to some extent.
- The Riverside Shakespeare: Macbeth; William Shakespeare
- Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human; Harold Bloom
- Shakespeare After All; Marjorie Garber
Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.