According to Aristotle, the tragic hero shares some of the magnificent traits of the gods, but in order to experience his inevitable fall from grace and cause the audience to identify with him, he must also exhibit human frailties, and especially his specific tragic flaw. These mixed qualities are found in both Macbeth and King Lear, heroes in two of Shakespeare's most tragic plays. This study will examine the characters of Lear and Macbeth in order to delineate both their god-like qualities which qualify them as heroic and the human flaws which bring about their downfall and qualify them as tragic.
Both characters are, indeed, sterling examples of the tragic hero as defined by Aristotle. Both are strong and brave men full of admirable qualities which reflect the best qualities of the gods, but both are marked blatantly by fatal and tragic flaws. Macbeth is driven by a lust for power which destroys all dear to him, while Lear is made tragic by his monstrous pride.
In fact, the tragic hero often exhibits god-like qualities and human flaws in the same speech or situation. In Lear's entrance speech, for example, we find the wisdom and acceptance of death which reflect the strength of a god, while in the next breath encountering the blatantly self-centered pride which will be the king's downfall: "'Tis our fast intent/ To shake all cares and business from our age,/ Conferring them on younger strengths, while we/ Unburthen'd crawl toward death" (King Lear I,1,37-40). After making this declaration indicating his wisdom and strength of character, he immediately exposes, with no shame or irony, a fatal pride, saying that he will give the most property to the daughter who loves him the most, or, rather, can present to him the most convincing argument that she loves him the most: "Which of you shall we say doth love us most?/ That we our largest bounty may extend/ Where nature doth with merit challenge" (King Lear I,1,50-52).