Rosen, Michael. Shakespeare and the Craft of Tragedy.
Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard U P, 1964.

Thesis: In the "Preface" to his book Rosen writes,

This study of Shakespeare's last four major tragedies does not attempt to establish a revolutionary method that will set misguided thinking right. It is built on critical works of the past and of the present . . . . This study concentrates on the play's dramatic techniques; more specifically it investigates how the point of view of an audience is established toward the protagonist.  (ix)
True to these words, Rosen uses analysis of the audience's point of view in order to answer a central question about the play, "how can a villain be a truly tragic hero?" (53).

First, Rosen shows how Shakespeare altered history in such a way as to make Macbeth villainous. For example, the historical Macbeth opposed a historical Duncan who was a weak and ineffective king, and the historical Macbeth didn't murder Duncan in the night, but defeated him in battle.

Second, Rosen rejects previous solutions to the problem. It can't be true, says Rosen, that we sympathize with Macbeth, despite his villany, because of his torturing conscience and undaunted courage, and — on the other hand — it can't be true that we are not meant to sympathize with Macbeth at all.

Finally, Rosen charts a third approach:

In studying the perspective in which Shakespeare places Macbeth, we shall make use of the concepts "involvement" and "detachment" to describe an audience's reaction to character. Because the more popular term "audience sympathy" connotes both involvement and approval, it can lead us far astray in treating Macbeth, who exhibits commendable traits, yet commits heinous crimes. Oftentimes we are involved with Macbeth; we see events through his eyes, share his thoughts and emotions, and yet Shakespeare, at the same time, calls upon us to judge his actions. We can be involved with a character with whom we are not meant to be sympathetic.  (57)
Also, and perhaps more importantly, Rosen shows how the perspective in which we see Macbeth changes during the course of the play. For example, in the first part of the play we see Lady Macbeth push him toward his crime, but after the killing of Duncan, Macbeth acts alone. In addition, we do not see Macbeth kill Duncan, but we do see the killings of both Banquo and Lady Macduff. By such changes in perspective our involvement with Macbeth is gradually displaced by a detached judgment upon his crimes, so that at the end of the play, "the fall of the protagonist brings no tragic release, no feeling of woe or wonder, for Shakespeare mutes such feelings by transferring interest from Macbeth's personal plight to society's salvation, dispelling the terrors of man's conflict with destiny" (102).

Evaluation: Rosen's argument is persuasive, but it makes me uneasy. It don't like to hear that Shakespeare wrote a tragedy which does not end with the tragic sense of "woe and wonder," but perhaps that's just the plain truth and explains my lukewarm reaction to Macbeth.

Bottom Line: Very detailed, very good.