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The Idea Of Ambition In The Play Macbeth

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In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, the main character Macbeth did everything he could to get ahold of power, and later, he did everything he could to maintain that power. Although the primary source of ambition and purpose came from the Witches’ prognosticates, the desire to fulfill one’s prophesy becomes very powerful throughout the play, and eventually leads to the downfall of the characters. This very concept of “ambition” can be seen through the many actions and behaviors by each of the main characters, such as Lady Macbeth’s encouragement of the murder of King Duncan and Macbeth’s blind pursuit of power.

The very first idea of ambition surfaces mainly from Lady Macbeth early on in the play. When Lady Macbeth reads Macbeth’s letter telling of the Witches’ prophecy of his kingship on Act 1 Scene 5, she analyses his future, stating that “U do fear thy nature, It is too full o’th’ milk of human kindness To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great, Art not without ambition” (14-17) The audience is informed that Macbeth does have ambition, but isn’t evil enough yet. Hence, Macbeth later refuses the idea of murdering King Duncan in Act 1, Scene 7. This leads to Lady Macbeth taunting him of his cowardice and lack of manliness, savagely stating that “I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have plucked my nipple from […] [the baby’s] boneless gums and dashed the brains out, had I sworn as you have done to this” (56-59) rather than break the promise of killing King Duncan. This shows how Lady Macbeth’s desire to fulfill her husband’s prophecy is very extreme, and her persuasiveness sets up Macbeth’s development of his evil ambitions—just like his wife. After Macbeth finally murders his King on Act 2 Scene 2, he hears voices crying that he has murdered sleep and will never sleep again; Lady Macbeth dismisses the hallucinations and orders him to return the daggers. He refuses. Enraged, she yells, “Give me the daggers. […] If he do bleed I’ll guild the faces of the grooms withal, For it must seem their guilt.” (56-59) While Macbeth is still in shock and fear, Lady Macbeth seems to be only concerned to avoid blame—this ill-natured behavior only reinforces her cruel and cold ambition in getting her husband ahold of power.

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In the latter half of the play, Macbeth takes over, and his corrupted ambitions—influenced by Lady Macbeth—becomes evident as he begins to become obsessed with maintaining the power that he has won. In Act 3 Scene 1, Macbeth persuades the Murderers to assassinate Banquo and Fleance, “Yet I must not, For certain friends that are both his and mine, Whose loves I may not drop, but wail his fall Who I myself struck down,” (119-122) because he feared that Banquo’s descendants would become kings. This scene is where it is very evident that Macbeth’s ambition has turned into a devilish passion; instead of carrying out the dirty deed on his own, now, he is persuading other hitmen to kill for him.

After his encounter with Banquo’s dead ghost Act 3 Scene 4, Macbeth vows that “I will tomorrow—And betimes I will—to the weird sisters” and that “I am in blood Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er.” (132-138) This assertion strongly embodies Macbeth’s new sense of ambition; it is apparent that he is going crazy and paranoid—he swears that there is no turning back and that he will kill anyone standing in his way. In Act 3 Scene 1, Macbeth finally seemingly reaches the peak of his tyrannical ambition. “The castle of Macduff I will surprise; Seize upon Fife; give th’edge o’th’sword His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls That trace him in his line” (149-151) This determination and ambition to massacre innocent women and children finally show the depth of brutality to which he has now sunk himself in.

From Macbeth’s pure ambition of just serving his King to his devastating and brutal ambition of murdering anybody in his way, this play: Macbeth dramatically develops the idea of “ambition” over time. Each of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth’s level of ambition fluctuates throughout each Act and Scene, forming an impressive play, overall.

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The Idea Of Ambition In The Play Macbeth. (2021, August 20). Edubirdie. Retrieved January 27, 2023, from
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