Ambition and Power in Macbeth

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Macbeth is a play written in 1606 by William Shakespeare and set in 11th century Scotland. The main protagonist is an honourable man at the beginning, however driven with ambition, he shows his true nature. With the influence of Lady Macbeth, Macbeth is turned into a monster, with no feelings of guilt and remorse for his own actions. Throughout Macbeth, Shakespeare portrays how Macbeth is transformed from being a loyal commander to a deceitful man in pursuit of his own selfish interests. 

Shakespeare starts by illustrating Macbeth as a warrior, giving him great praise for his actions in order to highlight his loyalty to the King and his devotion to the country he serves. It is evident at the beginning of the play that Macbeth is characterised as a brave man who fights in the war to defend his country for which he triumphs. This is supported by the words “Which ne'er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him, Till he unseamed him from the nave to th' chops, And fixed his head upon our battlements.”, which serves to illuminate Macbeths loyalty towards King Duncan by disembowelling 'Unseam’d him from the nave to the chaps' and then decapitating a soldier. This brave action shows the King that Macbeth will do anything for his country and King Duncan admires this quality and gifts him Cawdor a village in Scotland and makes Macbeth Thane of Cawdor for his devotion. Another representation of where Macbeths loyalty, is when Lady Macbeth attempts to convince Macbeth to kill the King. However, despite her words, Macbeth is hesitant on murdering the king and says to Lady Macbeth “We will proceed no further in this, business, He hath honoured me of late, and I have bought, Golden opinions from all sorts of people”. By Macbeth stating this he is demonstrating that he doesn’t want to exterminate the king, because he was Honoured Thane of Cawdor and given a great title that is respected among all. This shows Macbeth values opinions about him and he fancies the attention. Thus, Shakespeare demonstrates how Macbeth upholds his morals and his loyalty to the King and country through his character being well established as a hero.  

Before the meeting with the king and after his tragic death, Shakespeare portrays how Macbeth is in a vulnerable place and prone to the manipulation of his wife – Lady Macbeth. The negative influence of his wife degrading his masculinity and his insecurities has caused Macbeth to question by his manhood. As Lady Macbeth exclaims “When you durst do it, then you were a man”, Shakespeare intends to illustrate how she has questioned his character and his dishonesty as he wavers, with the sole intention of making Macbeth feel weak and less than a man. In addition, by crying out “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here”, she desperately pleads for the demons or witches to unsex her to take her femininity away so she is able to become a man to kill the king. Hence, Shakespeare further highlights how Lady Macbeth is able to emasculate her husband and manipulate him into doing her will. To further antagonize Macbeth, Lady Macbeth says to Macbeth “Thou wouldst be great, Art not without ambition, but without, the illness should attend it”. By speaking these words, Lady Macbeth plays to Macbeth’s flaws by acknowledging how he is gifted of ambitious dreams and that she truly believes he can be King if he acts on his ambition and it is only then will his wish to be King be fulfilled. Through her cunningness and her ability to emotional manipulate Macbeth, it takes great toll on his character leading to a significant shift in character - from a hero to a traitor. Consequently, Shakespeare demonstrates how Macbeth’s greatest flaw - his ambition – will ultimately lead to his tragic downfall. 

During the conclusion of the play, Macbeth has lost all remorse and human feelings towards those he was once loyal to and were important to him. Shakespeare demonstrates this through two important deaths in the play. When Macbeth plans to kill Banquo he instructs two murders to do the following “I “That I require a clearness. And with him—To leave no rubs nor botches in the work—Fleance, his son, that keeps him company, whose absence is no less material to me, than is his father’s, must embrace the fate”. This proves to the readers how ruthless Macbeth is, due to him hiring murderers to execute his long-time best friend and long-time battle partner Banquo and his son. After the murder of Banquo, Macbeth hallucinates ghosts of Banquo everywhere as a result of his journey to power. 

The Hallucination is a representation of Macbeth’s paranoia and his wish for none of the other guests to see Banquo’s ghosts, so Banquo doesn’t blame Macbeth for his killing. This shows the negative repercussions of his actions and how his drive for power has consumed him, a quote to represent his hallucinations “Avaunt, and quit my sight! Let the Earth hide thee. / Thy bones are marrowless; thy blood is cold;” further highlights this. When Macbeths wife dies, in Macbeth’s soliloquy, Shakespeare uses this literary device to demonstrate how Macbeth does not hold any love or remorse for the death of his wife through Macbeth announcing “she should have died hereafter. In comparison, Shakespeare emphasises Macduff’s more emotional response in his sorrows: “I shall do so, But I must also feel it as a man, -. Did heaven look of, and would not take their part? Sinful Macduff, they were all struck for thee! Naught that I an, not for their own demerits, but for mine, Fell slaughter on their souls. Heaven rest them now.” Macduff has a much more human response and then seeks revenge to kill Macbeth as vengeance for killing those he loved in cold blood. Hence, Shakespeare contrasts the good in Macduff with the bad in Macbeth. Macduff dearly loves his wife and children while Macbeth has lost all feeling for Lady Macbeth. Thus, Shakespeare depicts how a noble man can betray his King and country while losing his humanity as his journey to power closes with his very own murder. 

To conclude, Macbeths biggest flaw was his ambition for power. From the beginning, his character changed dramatically from act one to the very ending to his death. He is transformed from being a man of loyalty and honesty, to one who is power-hungry and deceitful. Macbeths desire for power and status contributed to his downfall, with Lady Macbeth influence being another factor, however overall it was due to his own overwhelming need to fulfil his self-interest to become King no matter what stood in his way. 


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Ambition And Power In Macbeth. (2021, Dec 28). Retrieved July 14, 2024 , from

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