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Using act 4, scene 2 of Macbeth, explain the difference between pathos and tragedy.


William Shakespeare’s bloody play Macbeth fits the classical model of Tragedy as outlined by Aristotle in his treatise on drama Poetics. Essentially, a classical tragedy tracks the life of a tragic hero, a person of noble birth who possesses a tragic flaw that leads to their downfall. Macbeth broadly adheres to this tragic hero mold. He is a Thane and powerful warrior admired for his bravery on the battlefield and his loyalty to King Duncan. However, Macbeth’s ambition leads him to murder Duncan and dozens of others in an increasingly desperate attempt to maintain his hold on the Scottish throne. In act 4, scene 2, a group of men massacres the women, children, and servants inhabiting Macduff’s castle on Macbeth’s orders. Any admiration remaining for Macbeth’s character vanishes in this scene. Whereas Macbeth’s previous murders were targeted, the assault of Macduff’s castle ends with indiscriminate and gratuitous butchery. Act 4, scene 2 of Macbeth fits the classical definition of tragedy because it shows just how depraved Macbeth has become and how far he has fallen.

Pathos, according to Aristotle in Poetics, is an overwhelming emotion of pity and fear that a tragedy arouses in an audience. Arguably the most pathos-evoking moment of Macbeth is act 4, scene 2 with the murder of Lady Macduff, her son and all other inhabitants of the castle. In much of the play, death occurs on the battlefield or in the context of a well-planned murder; Macbeth's victims are not humanized. In act 4, scene 2, Shakespeare evokes Pathos in his audience by showcasing the tenderness of the relationship between Lady Macduff and her son. When the pair are murdered by Macbeth’s thugs at the end of the scene, the audience’s pity is amplified by their understanding of the tight-knit relationship of Macduff’s family.

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