William Shakespeare, a play writer from the late 16th century, wrote plays that reflect relevant themes that are relatable to the modern society. Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare, tells the story of a man who was once a war hero, but after tasting power becomes corrupt due to his newfound power hunger. In the play, Shakespeare’s portrayal of Macbeth’s progressive ambition is used to represent the corruption of a man due to the greed for power, which ultimately suggests that all men who encounter ambition can be corrupted and demoralized.
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At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is a humble and heroic war hero who seems to be loyal to the king. Macbeth first begins to shows his ambition when he hears of a prophecy from three witches who tell him he shall become king.
Macbeth approaches the witches for which he receives praise for his heroic actions: “All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane/ of Cawdor!/ All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be King/ hereafter” (1.3. 54-57). As he received this news, Macbeth remains puzzled about the two titles given to him, Thane of Cawdor and King. Macbeth becomes overwhelmed when his is deemed Thane of Cawdor as it follows the witches predictions, making Macbeth question if the witches predictions were evil or good. Macbeth says, “My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical/ Shakes so my single state of man that function/ Is smothered in surmise and nothing is/ But what is not”(1.3. 160-163). Overcome by speculation, Macbeth is determined and ambitious to become king no matter the consequence. Macbeth gradually becomes corrupt due to the idea of becoming king but doesn’t know how he is going to achieve that. Macbeth’s desire for king is shown in Acts I and II where Macbeth and Lady Macbeth conspire a plan of killing King Duncan in order for Macbeth to become king.
In Act I, Macbeth says, “I am settled and bend up/ Each corporal agent to this terrible feat/ Away, and mock the time with fairest show/ False face must hide what the false heart doth know”(1.7. 92-95). Macbeth has made up his mind and will deceive everyone into believing he is a honorable host while hiding his evil intent with a gracious face. Now that Macbeth has felt a sense of certainty, his ambition circumes any other emotions that might affect his true intentions. Macbeth’s ambition begins to affect his judgment and any threat posed to him results in death. In Act III Macbeth says, “Our fears in Banquo/ Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature/ Reigns that which would be feared. ‘Tis much he dares/ And to that dauntless temper of his mind… No son of mine succeeding. If’t be so/ For Banquo’s issue have I filed my mind”(3.1. 53-56 & 68-69). This statement expresses his ambition is clouding his judgment, for he now fears Banquo, his noble friend, to be a threat to him. Since the witches prophecy spoke of Banquo’s heirs becoming king, Macbeth feared his own kin would not become king making him furious.
Macbeth’s ambition for maintaining his power as king and allowing his children to inherit the throne is shown in his plan to kill Banquo and his son. This clearly shows how Macbeth’s ambition is clouding his judgement, consequently losing everyone he once cared about. Macbeth has been shown to express his ambition mainly revolving around power. His ambition is shown during his encounters with the witches and the apparitions. Macbeth says, “The live, Macduff. What need I fear of thee?/ But yet I’ll make assurance double sure/ And take a bond of fate. Thou shalt not live!/ That I may tell pale-hearted fear it lies/ And sleep in sprite of thunder”(4.1. 93-97). Macbeth questions whether Macduff is an actual threat or not, however, he vows to kill Macduff and his family to ensure his power. After Macbeth hears of the prophecies that promise him safety, the death of Macduff guarantees his fate and allows him to put his fears to rest knowing that “The pow’r of man, for none of woman born/ Shall harm Macbeth”(4.1. 91-92).
Macbeth’s ambitious behavior is on display as he questions the prophecies to be impossible to happen: “That will never be./ Who can impress the forest, bid the tree/ Unfix his earth-bound root? Sweet bodements, good.”(4.1. 109-111). Macbeth questions the apparitions when they speak of “Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill” marching against Macbeth which he feels is impossible to occur (107). Leading into the end of the play Macbeth’s ambition dominates any other emotions he has which allows for him to be the strongest and even feel no affection towards the death of his wife. Macbeth says, “Hang out our banners on the outward walls./ The cry is still, “They come!” Our castle’s strength/ Will laugh a siege to scorn. Here let them lie/ Till famine and the ague eat them up”(4.5. 1-4). Macbeth’s ambition for power and belief of the witches prophecy leads him to believe that he shall be indestructible due to no one being able to kill him. This aspect shows the final version of Macbeth as he has now become so ambitious for power that he has let it command all actions of him.
The progression of corruption through Macbeth’s ambition has been shown throughout the play to end up demoralizing Macbeth. Shakespeare’s interpretation of ambition is shown through Macbeth which brings up the broader idea of how all men who experience power will become corrupt due to the ambitious behavior of wanting to retain the power taken. Macbeth was a mere example of corruption due to ambition because he started off as a noble and humble man who was then touched with power, which would also be his downfall. Many individuals in life have been given this type of power and it is common to see them turning out the same as Macbeth. Ambition transpires in all humans, so allowing it to take over will lead to the destruction of one’s sanity.
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