Unprincipled Ambition in Shakespeare's Macbeth

Unprincipled Ambition in Shakespeare's Macbeth

Length: 2206 words (6.3 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
Unprincipled Ambition in Macbeth

 
   The Bard of Avon saturates the pages of the tragedy Macbeth with ugly feelings of ambition - unprincipled ambition which is ready to kill for itself. Let's thoroughly search out the major instances of ambitious behavior by the husband-wife team.

 

Samuel Johnson in The Plays of Shakespeare explains the place of ambition in this tragedy:

 

The danger of ambition is well described; and I know not whether it may not be said in defence of some parts which now seem improbable, that, in Shakespeare's time, it was necessary to warn credulity against vain and illusive predictions.

The passions are directed to their true end. Lady Macbeth is merely detested; and though the courage of Macbeth preserves some esteem, yet every reader rejoices at his fall. (133)

 

 

Blanche Coles states in Shakespeare's Four Giants that the protagonist's ambition was not the usual narrow, personal ambition:

 

He has admitted to a vaulting ambition. We have no other evidence of personal ambition except, possibly, his own word in this speech. Onrushing events crowd the thought out of his mind and out of our view. We do have ample evidence of his ambition for his family, ambition for a son who might succeed him. [. . .] We think normally of ambition as a personal thing, but it is not always so. Macbeth's stupendous imagination, as revealed later in the play, gives him a breadth of vision altogether out of keeping with a narrow, personal ambition. (50-51)

 

In "Memoranda: Remarks on the Character of Lady Macbeth," Sarah Siddons mentions the ambition of Lady Macbeth and its effect:

 

[Re "I have given suck" (1.7.54ff.)] Even here, horrific as she is, she shews herself made by ambition, but not by nature, a perfectly savage creature. The very use of such a tender allusion in the midst of her dreadful language, persuades one unequivocally that she has really felt the maternal yearnings of a mother towards her babe, and that she considered this action the most enormous that ever required the strength of human nerves for its perpetration. Her language to Macbeth is the most potently eloquent that guilt could use.  (56)

 

Clark and Wright in their Introduction to The Complete Works of William Shakespeare interpret the main theme of the play as intertwining with evil and ambition:

 

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Unprincipled Ambition in Shakespeare's Macbeth." 123HelpMe.com. 02 Apr 2020
    <https://www.123helpme.com/view.asp?id=9779>.

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Ugly Ambition in Shakespeare's Macbeth Essay

- Ugly Ambition in Macbeth     The Bard of Avon saturates the pages of the tragedy Macbeth with ugly feelings of ambition - unprincipled ambition which is ready to kill for itself. Let's thoroughly search out the major instances of ambitious behavior by the husband-wife team.   In "Macbeth as the Imitation of an Action" Francis Fergusson states the place of Macbeth's ambition in the action of the play:   It is the phrase "to outrun the pauser, reason [2.3]," which seems to me to describe the action, or motive, of the play as a whole....   [tags: Macbeth essays]

Free Essays
2206 words (6.3 pages)

Driving Ambition in Shakespeare's Macbeth Essay

- Ambition can be defined as the desire and willingness to strive towards achievement or distinction. On the contrary, driving ambition is the outright desire to achieve a certain goal, regardless of any possible consequences. In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, driving ambition caused Macbeth and his wife to murder King Duncan because of their desire for power. In an attempt to retain his power Macbeth also murdered Banquo and Macduff’s family. Through both of these cruel actions, Macbeth and his wife displayed that they are not concerned about the cost of the deed, but only final result that is achieved....   [tags: Ambition, Shakespeare, Macbeth]

Research Papers
1447 words (4.1 pages)

Essay about The Transformation of Shakespeare's Macbeth

- The Transformation of Macbeth        From the beginning of the play, Macbeth undergoes a complete change in character--from a virtuous nobleman into a monster. He has a tragic weakness--ambition--which, when released, draws him into a web of evil and corruption that finally leaves him with none of the noble human qualities he possessed at the beginning of the play.        Before being transformed into a murderous monster, Macbeth is a model Scottish noble. He shows great loyalty and devotion to both King Duncan and his country in his fight against the Scottish rebels....   [tags: GCSE English Literature Coursework]

Research Papers
904 words (2.6 pages)

Ambition in Macbeth Essay examples

- In the play of “Macbeth”, Shakespeare gradually and effectively deepens our understanding of the themes and most importantly the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The main theme of Macbeth is ambition, and how it compels the main characters to pursue it. The antagonists of the play are the three witches, who symbolise the theme appearance and reality. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relation is an irony throughout the play, as most of their relation is based on greed and power. This is different from most of Shakespeare’s other plays, which are mostly based on romance and trust....   [tags: Ambition, Shakespeare, Macbeth]

Research Papers
1798 words (5.1 pages)

Ambition and the Tragic Demise of Macbeth Essay

- Ambition is a disease of the soul and to realise this you need to look no further than Macbeth by William Shakespeare. For in Macbeth is the tale of ambition driving impulse over logic and reason, how an unhealthy thought of treason taints and diseases the very soul. We can see this overriding ambition in the scene where Lady Macbeth is residing in her castle whilst waiting for Macbeth. Whilst alone Lady Macbeth decides that Macbeth lacks the masculinity to do what is necessary to acquire power....   [tags: Ambition, Shakespeare, Macbeth]

Research Papers
626 words (1.8 pages)

Ambition and the Downfall of Macbeth Essay

- Macbeth is one of William Shakespeare’s most powerful and emotionally intense plays. Macbeth, once known for his courage and bravery is transformed into a ruthless tyrant. His wife, Lady Macbeth, once known for her strength and great ambition is soon engulfed by guilt and sensitivity greatly weakens her. As the tragic hero Macbeth is overcome by tensions in his criminal act and the reactions by his conscience (Nix). In the opening act of this play Macbeth is a solider who has just returned from war....   [tags: Ambition, Shakespeare, Macbeth]

Research Papers
1329 words (3.8 pages)

Role of Ambition in Macbeth Essay

- The play Macbeth written by William Shakespeare is based upon old Scotland and this is used as the general time frame. During this time, Monarchy still existed and Scotland is in war with Whales. There are many emotions that arise throughout the play, but the most important of all is ambition. “Ambition is the desire for personal achievement. Ambitious persons seek to be the best at what they choose to do for attainment, power, or superiority” (“Ambition”). The motif of ambition in the play is that being ambitious leaves one blind to certain areas and can drive one insane to reach the intended goal....   [tags: Ambition, Shakespeare, Macbeth]

Research Papers
1083 words (3.1 pages)

Blind Ambition in Macbeth Essay

- Among the greatest gifts that the renaissance produced was the eloquent and incredible Shakespearean plays. Written mostly in the 1590s these plays have been performed and admired countless times; entertaining mass audiences by providing interesting tales that explore the depth of human insights and the different universal themes. Among the many Shakespearean plays Macbeth, written in 1606, stands out with its short composition but multiple themes. This tragedy narrates the tale of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s quest to grasp ultimate power by ignoring their morals and succumbing to their dark desires, which ultimately leads to their downfall....   [tags: Ambition, Shakespeare, Macbeth]

Research Papers
855 words (2.4 pages)

Lady Macbeth's Ambition Leads to Her Destruction in Shakespeare's Macbeth

- Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Lady Macbeth is one of the perfect examples of the total corruption power and ambition can cause. She starts out confident, sure of her ambition and how to gain it. She believed that by becoming a man, becoming what she thought was a creature who would stop at nothing to attain power and it's privileges, she could gain what she needed without being impeded by emotions such as remorse, or pity. She calls upon the witches to give her these things and so creates an interesting relationship with them despite never actually meeting them....   [tags: Ambition, Shakespeare, Macbeth]

Research Papers
799 words (2.3 pages)

Ambition in Macbeth Essay

- Ever since he heard the prophecies that promised him power, Macbeth’s mind has been descending into a disoriented state as times passed. In the duration of Acts 1 and 2, Macbeth, under the influence of Lady Macbeth and his own ambition, has changed from being a rational, level-headed man to one of questionable integrity. With Macbeth’s coronation, not only does his inner turmoil affect his mentality, but also his behaviour and senses. Scotland is immersed in more chaos by Macbeth’s hunger for supremacy, his acknowledgement of his crimes, and by further disturbance in the human order and divine order....   [tags: Ambition, Shakespeare, Macbeth]

Research Papers
738 words (2.1 pages)

Related Searches


While in Hamlet and others of Shakespeare's plays we feel that Shakespeare refined upon and brooded over his thoughts, Macbeth seems as if struck out at a heat and imagined from first to last with rapidity and power, and a subtlety of workmanship which has become instructive. The theme of the drama is the gradual ruin through yielding to evil within and evil without, of a man, who, though from the first tainted by base and ambitious thoughts, yet possessed elements in his nature of possible honor and loyalty. (792)

 

The Tragedy of Macbeth opens in a desert place with thunder and lightning and three Witches who are anticipating their meeting with Macbeth, "There to meet with Macbeth." They all say together the mysterious and contradictory "Fair is foul, and foul is fair." King Duncan learns that "brave Macbeth" and Banquo are bravely resisting the "Norweyan banners" and the rebellious Thane of Cawdor. When these forces are vanquished, Duncan bids Ross to greet Macbeth with his new title of Thane of Cawdor. Before this happens, however, Macbeth is greeted by the witches with "hail to thee, thane of Glamis," "thane of Cawdor," and "thou shalt be king hereafter!" When Ross and Angus arrive with news of Duncan's reward ("He bade me, from him, call thee thane of Cawdor"), it is logical for Macbeth to assume that all of the weird sisters' prophecies will come true. Futilely, Banquo cautions, "And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, / The instruments of darkness tell us truths," but Macbeth is "rapt" on the "suggestion / Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs," and concludes that "chance may crown me," remaining steadfastly confident in the witches' prophecies.

 

After the king's announcement that "We will establish our estate upon / Our eldest, Malcolm," Macbeth says, "The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step / On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap," for his ambitious scheming is seriously underway. At Inverness in Macbeth's castle, his lady, after appreciating his letter detailing the witches' prophecies, reacts with, "Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be / What thou art promised," yet she fears that her husband's nature is "too full o' the milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way" - words whose meaning becomes clear in her subsequent statement: "The raven himself is hoarse / That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan / Under my battlements." Her ambition has turned murderous.

 

Duncan's visit to Inverness, a one-night celebration of the victory, occasions quick plotting by the Macbeths ("If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well / It were done quickly"), who are fully aware of the moral evil involved: "But here, upon this bank and shoal of time, / We'ld jump the life to come," and "this even-handed justice / Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice / To our own lips." Furthermore, Macbeth recognizes that King Duncan's "virtues / Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against / The deep damnation of his taking-off," while the captain has only "vaulting ambition" on his own side; thus he says to his wife, "We will proceed no further in this business." She responds with an accusation of cowardice, "Art thou afeard / To be the same in thine own act and valour / As thou art in desire?" Her cold, ambitious cruelty stands out as she re-converts Macbeth to the murder:

 

I have given suck, and know

How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:

I would, while it was smiling in my face,

Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,

And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn as you

Have done to this. (1.7)

 

Lady Macbeth will make the two chamberlains drunk on wine. Macbeth is forced to recognize her total lack of maternal sensitivities: "Bring forth men-children only; / For thy undaunted mettle should compose / Nothing but males." Macbeth feels the pressure of the impending "bloody business" and thereby has a vision of the murder instrument:

 

Is this a dagger which I see before me,

The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.

I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible

To feeling as to sight? or art thou but

A dagger of the mind, a false creation,

Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? (2.1)

 

In Act 2, Scene 2, Lady Macbeth confesses to her husband that could not perform the murder because "Had he not resembled / My father as he slept, I had done't." So Macbeth follows through with the killing. Immediately he is striken with guilt as he exclaims, looking on his hands, to his wife, "This is a sorry sight," and "I had most need of blessing." His ambition does not override his feelings of guilt.

 

The next morning Macduff and Lennox arrive to awaken the king. Macduff exits the king's chamber with screams of disbelief and horror at the stabbing death of King Duncan; he informs Malcolm. Macbeth kills the chamberlains, his ambition motivating him to perform two more murders.

 

As Macbeth goes to Scone to be "invested" in his kingly office, Ross comments that Duncan's horses have reverted to the wild state and are biting one another - an occurrence most unnatural -- like the murder of a virtuous king. In soliloquy Macbeth gives the ambitious rationale behind his murder of Banquo:

 

For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind;

For them the gracious Duncan have I murder'd;

Put rancours in the vessel of my peace

Only for them; and mine eternal jewel

Given to the common enemy of man,

To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings! (3.1)

 

In a park near the palance, Banquo is set upon and killed "With twenty trenched gashes on his head." At the banquet that evening, the ghost of Banquo enters and sits in the king's place. Macbeth alone sees him and addresses him guiltily: "Thou canst not say I did it: never shake / Thy gory locks at me." The king's ambition once again is overridden by his guilt. The queen attempts to explain away his apparent illness by saying he has been thus troubled since his youth. The queen attributes her husband's psychological problems ("Strange things I have in head") to the fact that "You lack the season of all natures, sleep." Later, when the "midnight hags" utter their incantation,

 

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble. (4.1)

 

Macbeth hears the first apparition warn to "beware Macduff;" the second apparition say "none of woman born / Shall harm Macbeth;" the third apparition say that "Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until / Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill / Shall come against him;" and the "show of eight kings" along with Banquo's ghost. Macbeth ambitiously resolves to kill Macduff's family:

 

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 spite of thunder. (4.1)

 

At Dunsinane, Lady Macbeth's doctor observes the queen sleepwalking, seemingly washing her hands, shouting in her sleep, "Out, damned spot!" and expressing her fear: "What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?" Macbeth requests of the doctor, "Canst thou not minister to a mind diseased." The doctor voices the moral nature of the queen's problem:

 

Foul whisperings are abroad: unnatural deeds

Do breed unnatural troubles: infected minds

To their deaf pillows will discharge their secrets:

More needs she the divine than the physician. (5.1)

 

Thus it is that vaulting ambition has consumed the queen's goodness and transformed her into a deranged woman. When Seyton announces, "The queen, my lord, is dead," Macbeth turns his thoughts to the relentless pace of ongoing time with "And all our yesterdays have lighted fools / The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!"

 

As Siward's 10,000 men surround the highly fortified Dunsinane,  the messenger announces to Macbeth that Birnam Wood is moving toward Dunsinane, causing Macbeth's waning ambition to hold onto the one tiny morsel of hope, "What's he / That was not born of woman? Such a one / Am I to fear, or none."

 

In the fury of combat, Macbeth reveals his name to young Siward, and the latter responds, "The devil himself could not pronounce a title / More hateful to mine ear." When Macduff overtakes Macbeth, the king guiltily confesses that "my soul is too much charged / With blood of thine already." Macduff discloses that "Macduff was from his mother's womb / Untimely ripp'd;" thus he is able to return with the head of Macbeth - a fitting end for one ruled by personal, selfish ambition.

 

In "Macbeth as the Imitation of an Action" Francis Fergusson states the place of Macbeth's ambition in the action of the play:

 

It is the phrase "to outrun the pauser, reason [2.3]," which seems to me to describe the action, or motive, of the play as a whole. Macbeth, of course, literally means that his love for Duncan was so strong and so swift that it got ahead of his reason, which would have counseled a pause. But in the same way we have seen his greed and ambition outrun his reason when he committed the murder; and in the same way all of the characters, in the irrational darkness of Scotland's evil hour, are compelled in their action to strive beyond what they can see by reason alone. Even Malcolm and Macduff, as we shall see, are compelled to go beyond reason in the action which destroys Macbeth and ends the play. (106-7)

 

Fanny Kemble in "Lady Macbeth" refers to the ambition of Lady Macbeth:

 

 [. . .] to have seen Banquo's ghost at the banqueting table ... and persisted in her fierce mocking of her husband's terror would have been impossible to human nature. The hypothesis makes Lady Macbeth a monster, and there is no such thing in all Shakespeare's plays. That she is godless, and ruthless in the pursuit of the objects of her ambition, does not make her such. (118)

 

WORKS CITED

 

Clark, W.G. and Aldis Wright, eds. Introduction. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. New York: Nelson Doubleday, Inc., n. d.

 

Coles, Blanche. Shakespeare's Four Giants. Rindge, NH: Richard R. Smith Publisher, Inc., 1957.

 

Fergusson, Francis. "Macbeth as the Imitation of an Action." Shakespeare: The Tragedies. A Collectiion of Critical Essays. Alfred Harbage, ed. Englewwod Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1964.

 

Johnson, Samuel. The Plays of Shakespeare. N.p.: n.p.. 1765. Rpt in Shakespearean Tragedy. Bratchell, D. F. New York, NY: Routledge, 1990.

 

Kemble, Fanny. "Lady Macbeth." Macmillan's Magazine, 17 (February 1868), p. 354-61. Rpt. in Women Reading Shakespeare 1660-1900. Ann Thompson and Sasha Roberts, eds. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997.

 

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Macbeth. http://chemicool.com/Shakespeare/macbeth/full.html, no lin.

 

Siddons, Sarah. "Memoranda: Remarks on the Character of Lady Macbeth." The Life of Mrs. Siddons. Thomas Campbell. London: Effingham Wilson, 1834. Rpt. in Women Reading Shakespeare 1660-1900. Ann Thompson and Sasha Roberts, eds. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997.

 
Return to 123HelpMe.com