Vaulting ambition is the insatiable desire for something greater in your life. Ambition is a theme imbued in many texts as it is what fuels people to achieve greater things in life. It acts as the catalyst for the downfall of those seeking power on both a political, social and economic level. William Shakespeare in his play ‘Macbeth’, follows the tragic hero, Macbeth, and the calamitous spiral he falls into after his vaulting ambition to be king becomes unconstrained and leads to his consequent downfall. Comparably, William Golding’s novel, Lord of the Flies, exhibits similar themes of ambition. The protagonist, Jack, manifests characteristics similar to Macbeth’s in that his desire to be the leader steers him down a steep path of destruction, of which leads to his downfall. Both texts demonstrate the detrimental effects vaulting ambition has on those seeking power through the loss of of innocence, morality and how the ambition for power leads to the downfall of others as well as themselves. Thus, both texts are able to communicate the ways in which ambition leads to the downfall of those seeking power through the characterisation of Jack and Macbeth.
The composers explicate the idea that one’s innocence diminishes as they draw upon their vaulting ambition to seek and secure power by any means necessary. In Macbeth and Lord of the Flies, both characters forfeit their innocence, conscience and mental stability in order to fulfil their insatiable ambition for leadership and power. Shakespeare communicates Macbeth’s loss of innocence through the motif of sleep. When his ambition for power drives him to commit murder, Macbeth hears a voice whisper, “Macbeth doth murder sleep”, highlighting his already deteriorating conscience and further constructing the idea that sleep is only for those who convey honest innocence.
This positions audiences to build meaning and symbolic significance within the play and see Macbeth’s development from an innocent, valiant hero into a tragic mentally oppressed villain. The metaphorical illusion of blood also supports this idea of diminishing innocence. Blood represents the crimes Macbeth is guilty of, such as murder, treason, etc. Through the use of hyperbole and rhetorical questioning, “will all great Neptune’s oceans wash this blood clean from my hands?” audiences are able to acknowledge the loss of innocence within Macbeth’s character and consequent guilt because of these treacherous acts. Similarly, Golding explores the way in which the lack of societal boundaries leads to the loss of innocence within Jack as he fulfils his vaulting ambition for leadership. Golding portrays this idea through descriptive imagery. “Kill the pig. Cut her throat. Spill her blood”. This quote emphasises Jack’s loss of innocence as a result of the lack of civilisation around them. Thus positioning audiences to feel uneasy as they discover the savage nature Jack is reverting to while he tries to quench his thirst for power and leadership. Through the narration of Jack’s inner thoughts when he kills his first pig, readers are able to understand Jack’s perspective. “[They had] taken away its life like a satisfying drink”. The extremely graphic nature of this quote further supports Jack’s loss of innocence in marking a milestone in the boy’s decline into savagery in an attempt to gain leadership. This positions the audience to acknowledge Jacks transition from an innocent young boy to a sadistic juvenile. Therefore, both texts convey that the loss of innocence occurs as both Jack and Macbeth act upon their vaulting ambition.
Shakespeare and Golding conceptualise the iniquitous nature of man when vaulting ambition and desire for power leads to the disruption of one’s internal moral compass. This is portrayed through both Macbeth and Jack’s character development throughout both texts as they descend into evil as a result of their unharnessed ambition and need for power. Shakespeare through the use of prophecies allows Macbeth to draw his ambition from the fate he is prophesised. Ultimately, this is what leads to his downfall as he becomes more and more morally corrupt. “All hail Macbeth that shalt be king hereafter” is what fuels Macbeth’s ambition, sending him into an immoral spiral that involves tyranny, treachery and murder. This change in character is evident during Macbeth’s aside, when he states that, from now on, he will do anything that comes to mind, irrespective of the consequences, to ensure his reign remains unthreatened. “From this moment, The very firstlings of my heart shall be, The firstlings of my hand. And even now, To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done…” This palpable change in character dramatically exhibits the ways in which ambition and paranoia (as a result of ambition) lead to the downfall of Macbeth. Similarly, In Goldings Lord of the flies, Jack transitions from an innocent, arrogant, young boy into a barbaric youth whose ambition causes him to become morally corrupt. “‘I ought To be chief” said Jack with simple arrogance. ‘because I’m the chapter chorister and headboy.
I can sing in C sharp.’” This quote highlights Jack’s innocent self-confidence through the use of colloquial diction, allowing readers to read his remarks in a conversational tone. This is contrasted by his character towards the end of the text, when his ambition for power over threw his civilised moral compass, resulting in the iniquitous actions that lead to his downfall. “Eat! Damn it!” accentuates his character transformation as he evidently has become more hostile and antagonistic. The use of exclamation exemplifies his animosity as he notices his rage elicits respect from the other boys, and acknowledges that he can use fear, rage and intimidation to attain and fulfil his ambitious desires for power. Thus positioning the audience to feel threatened and scared of what Jack has become as he continues to neglect his morals and fuel his ambition. Thus, both composers are able to commune the destruction that results when ambition goes unconstrained by moral restrictions.
The composers evince that one’s unconstrained ambition for power can lead to others’ downfall as well as their own. Within both novels, ambition leads to the downfall of those seeking power as well as all those who stand in their way. This is evident in Macbeth, where Shakespeare links Banquo’s death to Macbeth’s unconstrained ambition. Banquo who was prophesised to father a line of kings, threatens Macbeth’s reign and therefore must be eliminated. “…And before the dung beetle makes it’s little humming noise to tell us its night time a dreadful deed will be done” Foreshadows Banquo’s untimely demise. This foreshadowing creates dramatic tension between Macbeth and readers as they convey the possible outcomes that may occur. This concept is further depicted during the murder of Macduff’s family.
Macbeth was given three apparitions one of which being “Beware Macduff…”. Macbeth immediately acknowledges that Macduff is a threat to the safety of his reign and therefore must be killed. However, Macduff left Scotland in seek of Malcom, Duncan’s rightful successor. This doesn’t stop Macbeth, only fuels his vaulting ambition. He decides to slaughter Macduff’s family. This occurs during his soliloquy “The castle of Macduff I will surprise seize upon Fife, give to the edge o’ the sword, his wife, his babes…”. This positions audiences to gain a deeper understanding of the ways in which Macbeth’s ambition has led to the downfall of Macduff’s family and decline in Macbeth’s empathy towards people. Likewise, Golding highlights the similarities between Macbeth and Jack in that both will sacrifice the lives and well being of others to fulfil their own ravenous desire to hold both political and societal power. Golding uses an extended metaphor to unveil the ways in which Jack’s approach and ambition to be the outright leader inspired the savage behaviour that led to the boys’ downfall. The conch shell acts as an extended metaphor for socially accepted, civilised behaviour that forced the boys to remain humanised. When attempting to become the group’s leader and fulfil his ambition for power, Jack proposes “we don’t need the conch anymore”, suggesting that in order to survive on the island they must follow Jack’s leadership and retreat to barbaric natures. This …. Positioning the audience to … This idea is further communicated through the death of Piggy. Jack’s ideologies he inflicted upon the group as he began to fulfil his ambition of power resulted in the barbaric and bestial death of Piggy. Golding, through the use of similes, creates a clear mental image of Piggy’s death. “Piggy’s arms and legs twitched a bit, like a pig’s after it had been killed.” This allows audiences to immediately envision a mental image of what Jack is seeing. Hence, Shakespeare and Golding are able to depict that the destructive and powerful link between ambition and power can result in the downfall of others, as well as your own.
William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and William Golding’s Lord of the Flies effectively convey the shared thematic concern of vaulting ambition and its destructive link to power. The main protagonists in both texts, Macbeth and Jack, prove that one’s rapacious ambition for power is directly linked to their downfall. Both composers acknowledge that loss of innocence and morality are a result of unconstrained ambition, of which leads to the downfall of those seeking power, and those in their way. Therefore, through texts such as Macbeth and Lord of the flies, readers are able to understand the noxious relationship between ambition and power.