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Shakespeare's Macbeth - Subversion of Reason by Ambition

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Macbeth: Subversion of Reason by Ambition

Throughout the play Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, the reasoning of the central characters, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, is completely subverted by their insatiable ambition. At first, Macbeth is reasonable enough to keep his ambition under control. However, his ambition gradually becomes stronger and eventually overpowers Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is controlled by ambition from the very beginning. After the decision is made to kill Duncan, all rational thought is abandoned. Once the murder is planned, there is no serious questioning of the misleading predictions of the three witches. Macbeth even goes as far as to ask for the witches’ advice a second time - this second time would lead to his downfall. The decision to kill Duncan also signifies the last serious attempt at moral contemplation on the part of Macbeth. Throughout the novel we see evidence of reason being subverted by ambition thus resulting in the destruction of the Macbeths.

Macbeth, who initially is a very reasonable and moral man, cannot hold off the lure of ambition. This idea is stated in the following passage taken from Mark Scott’s Shakespeare for Students:

One of the most significant reasons for the enduring critical interest in Macbeth's character is that he represents humankind's universal propensity to temptation and sin. Macbeth's excessive ambition motivates him to murder Duncan, and once the evil act is accomplished, he sets into motion a series of sinister events that ultimately lead to his downfall (Scott, 236).

Macbeth is told by three witches, in a seemingly random and isolated area, that he will become Thane of Cawdor and eventually king. Only before his ambition o...

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Bibliography

Blakemore Evans, G. (Editor). The Riverside Shakespeare. Houghton Miffin Company. Boston, Massatsus. 1974

Bradley, A.C. Shakespearean Tragedy. Toronto: Penguin Books Canada Ltd., 1991.

Campbell, Lily B. Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes, Slaves of Passion. Gloucester: Peter Smith Publisher Inc., 1973.

Frame, Douglas. Night’s Black Agents. Thunder Bay: La Mancha Books Ltd., 1967.

Hawkes, Terence. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Macbeth. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1977.

Hunter, G.K. “Macbeth in the Twentieth Century.” Aspects of Macbeth. Ed. Kenneth Muir and Philip Edwards.

Knight, G. Wilson. The Imperial Theme. London: Methuen & Co Ltd., 1965.

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Oxford: OUP, 1994.

Scott, Mark W. (Editor). Shakespeare for Students. Gale Research Inc. Detroit, Michigan. 1992
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