In order to understand why Hamlet and Macbeth act in extreme ways, it is best to define the basic idea behind tragedy. It was Aristotle who defined tragedy, saying:
"Tragedy, then, is an imitation of an action of high importance, complete and of some ampli¬tude; in language enhanced by distinct and varying beauties ... by means of pity and fear effectuating its purgation of these emotions." (qtd. in Potts).
Both characters are enhanced by the elevated emotion in the complex use of language. Within the story itself, they are defined by the many obstacles surrounding them which completely change their world. When this happens, the audience begins to pity for the character when their demise is apparent, even if they are brought to their ruin through their own fault. Hamlet and Macbeth are no exception to the makings of a tragedy. Both situations involve honor and what they will do to obtain it. Hamlet must avenge his father's death by killing his uncle and claiming the throne while Macbeth decides to kill the king and usurp his throne with a firm reliance on supernatural powers to protect him. Their lives come to a standstill when they are confronted with a life-changing task, but this is where their paths take a different direction for them. Hamlet and Macbeth go about their problems in different manners, but one believes in earning honor while the other believes honor can be taken. Such attitudes will lead to their eventual collapse, but who falls with valiance rather than disgrace?
When originally confronted with the issue of murdering his uncle, Hamlet immediately thinks of a way to get closer to the king by putting "...an antic disposition on," (Hamlet, 1.5.172). Macbeth, when first prompted to murder King Duncan and take his throne, struggles with the ethics behind it and eventually comes to the conclusion that his "...eyes are made the fools o'th'other senses," (Macbeth, 2.1.45) and "...wicked dreams abuse/The curtained sleep," (2.1.50-51). Macbeth acknowledges that he is just blinded by thoughts of wealth and power, but within the same soliloquy he makes the rapid decision to kill the king. These are the first signs of the reoccurring flaws each character exhibits; moreover, these constant errors will lead to their ultimate end. Hamlet refuses to take action when presented with an apparent solution, and Macbeth acts out of mistrust and suspicion of those around him and makes impulsive resolutions