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Throughout the play Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, the reasoning of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is completely subverted and undermined by their insatiable ambition. Macbeth was at first reasonable enough to keep his ambition in check, however it eventually became to strong for even Macbeth and therefor over powered him. To the contrary, Lady Macbeth was overcome by her ambition from the very beginning. Reasoning was abandoned after the decision to kill Duncan was made. At that point we see no serious questioning of the motives of the three witches when they told their cunning and misleading predictions. Macbeth even went as far as to ask for their advise a second time - this second time would of course lead to his downfall. The decision to kill Duncan also signified the last serious attempt at moral contemplation on the part of Macbeth. Throughout the novel we see that the Macbeth's ambition completely subverted their reasoning abilities and eventually lead to their downfall.
Macbeth, whom initially was a very reasonable and moral man, could not hold off the lure of ambition. This idea is stated in the following passage: "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 Thank of Cawdor and eventually king. Only before his ambition overpowers his reasoning does he question their motives. One place this questioning takes place is in the following passage:
"- Two Truths are told,
As happy Prologues to the swelling Act
Of the Imperial Theme. - I thank you, Gentlemen.
- This supernatural Soliciting
Cannot be Ill, cannot be good. If Ill,
Why hath it given me Earnest of Success,
Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor.
If Good, why do I yield to tat Suggestion
Whose Horrid Image doth unfix my Heir
And make my seated Heart knock at my Ribs
Against the use of Nature?" (Shakespeare; I, iii, 125-135)
Even as he questions their motives, he does not come to the logical assumption that these three evildoers are in fact pushing him down a path filled with evil and despair. He says that their visit "cannot be ill, cannot be good" and goes on to explain why it cannot be either of these two things.
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"He's here in double trust:
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off." (Shakespeare; I, vii, 12-16)
We see Macbeth present an argument against killing his beloved king. We see that his ambition is present because he does seem to be ready to refute the title of King and in fact accepts the title of Thane of Cawdor. The expert: "- If Chance will have me King. Why/ Chance may crown me. (Shakespeare; I, iii, 141-142)" is an excellent example of Macbeth's ambition. However his ambition is not overbearing, because he still considers the meaning of the supernatural soliciting instead of just accepting its seemingly optimistic prophesies. His ambition does not become overbearing until it is fueled by Lady Macbeth's own ambition. Macbeth's ambition is in sharp contrast to Banquo. Banquo comes across as much more hesitant to accept the witches prophesy. This contrast was created for a specific reason - to highlight Macbeth's tragic flaw. "One critical perspective views Banquo's function as essentially symbolic: he is portrayed as a man who, like Macbeth, has the capacity for both God's grace and sin; but unlike the protagonist, he puts little stock in the Weird Sisters, prophecies and does not succumb to their temptations. Banquo's reluctance to dwell on the witchs' predictions therefore underscores, by contrast, the nature of Macbeth's descent into evil." (Scott; 238) Banquo does not have the same overbearing ambition as Macbeth and therefor is able to reason with the situation. Banquo's logic is most prevalently seen in the following quote:
"That trusted home
Might yet enkindle you unto the Crown
Besides the Thane of Cawdor, But 'tis Strange:
And oftentimes, to win us to our Harm.
The Instruments of Darkness tell us Truths,
Win us with honest Trifles, to betray's
In deepest Consequence
- Cousins, a Word, I pray you." (Shakespeare; I, iii, 118-124)
Banquo speaks this quote immediately after Macbeth is told that he will be the new Thane of Cawdor. It is a stark warning that shows evidence of logical deduction and reasonable thinking on the part of Banquo. Had he been a far more ambitious man, he may have worried about his own prophecy - about the future glory of his children and their children.
Not only was Macbeth overtaken by his ambition, Lady Macbeth was also overtaken. Unlike Macbeth, however, Lady Macbeth was overtaken by her ambition immediately. As she read the letter sent to her by Macbeth, which spoke of the new title and the witches prophecies she immediately decided that they must do whatever is necessary to become King and Queen. Again we see that ambition subverts reasoning. She does not even question the motives of these three evil sisters or the moral ramifications of killing Duncan like Macbeth does. Instead she almost immediately decides that Duncan has to be dealt with. This break down in reasoning was very damaging to both Macbeth and his wife. Here we see what an adverse affect it had on Lady Macbeth. "As husband and wife grow apart in their own torments, Lady Macbeth discovers what it is to invite an 'unsexing' which amounts to demonic possession: the slight human compunction which prevents her murdering Duncan grows into a curse upon her unwomaned body, and she finds that 'a little water' will not clear her of this deed" (Blakemore; 1310)
In conclusion, throughout the play Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, the reasoning of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is completely subverted and undermined by their insatiable ambition. Macbeth was at first reasonable enough to keep his ambition in check, however it eventually became to strong for even Macbeth and over powered him. To the contrary, Lady Macbeth was overcome by her ambition from the very beginning. Reasoning was abandoned after the decision to kill Duncan was made. At that point we see no serious questioning of the motives of the three witches when they told their cunning and misleading predictions. Macbeth even went as far as to ask for their advise a second time - this second time would of course lead to his downfall. The decision to kill Duncan also signified the last serious attempt at moral contemplation on the part of Macbeth. Throughout the novel we see that the Macbeth's ambition completely subverted their reasoning abilities and eventually lead to their downfall.
1. Blakemore Evans, G. (Editor). The Riverside Shakespeare. 1974. Houghton Miffin Company. Boston, Massatsus.
2. Scott, Mark W. (Editor). Shakespeare for Students. 1992. Gale Research Inc. Detroit, Michigan.
3. Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. 1990. Doubleday Book and Music Clubs, Inc. Great Britian