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Themes Of Power And Ambition In Macbeth

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Tragedy is a form of drama that is centred around a lead character with a fatal flaw. The main cast is often a victim/subject of their inner turmoil, which is a build-up of their mental illness, paranoia, ego, and growing greed and envy. The tragic hero’s poor decisions, as well as manipulative influences, causes a myriad of murder and issues that result in the downfall of both the country and themselves. Macbeth is recognized as one of Shakespeare’s most influential tragedies. Macbeth dramatizes the corrupt political and psychological effect of Macbeth choosing evil to satisfy his ambition for power. Themes of ambition and supernatural are prevalent in Macbeth, informing the audience of the impacts of human choices, specifically immoral choices.

Ambition and power play a vital part in Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, in particular, it is ambition driving decisions with no rightful moral, becoming an unhealthy trait. Macbeth’s ambition stimulates most of his behaviour and actions, resulting in both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s absolute downfall of human suffering. Ambition and power plays a heavy influence on the personality and beliefs of the characters and adds to the moral of teaching the audience about the consequence of human decisions.

Themes of power and ambition are prevalent in Macbeth, as an audience, it is clear that several acts of greed are present. Macbeth’s interaction with the three witches which drives Macbeth’s “vaulting ambition”. The prophecy presented to Macbeth “…shalt be king hereafter” Act 1, Scene 3, Line 51, foreshadow and provokes Macbeth’s ambition towards the crown. As Macbeth demands answers, he exclaims, “That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur…” in, revealing that Macbeth could not care less for the people of Scotland, proving himself as a self-centred leader. As Lady Macbeth performs a soliloquy she speaks “To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great, Art not without ambition, but without…” Act 1, Scene 5, Line 5-6, she reflects on her husband’s character. Knowing Macbeth is capable of his ambitious dreams, but is unwilling to display the vicious behaviour necessary to achieve the murder. Macbeth’s overwhelming desire for power drives him to use all his power to satisfy his greed, leading to the assassination of Duncan. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand?…” Act2, Scene 2, Line 60-61, The consequence of the murder is guilt, Macbeth realises even “all great Neptune’s ocean” cannot cleanse him and his crime will stay for life. Macbeth was a hero who goes wrong when he desires for power. Macbeth’s decisions and ambition start his road of defeat.

The text effectively demonstrates the influence of a character’s power and ambition, specifically negative effects. Macbeth’s assassinations of creates pity in the audience as Duncan was a fair and generous king. Macbeth’s fatal flaw of ever-increasing ambition prompts his ongoing thoughtless decisions and false hope, paving the path of the downfall of Scotland’s people and himself.

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The leading reason for Macbeth’s ambition is the supernatural, a theme that appears in multiple Shakespeare’s playwrights. Supernatural is implemented in plays to create dramatic emphasis and suspicion, witches, ghosts, bad omens are examples of supernatural themes. The use of supernatural themes commonly represents wicked forces, this is shown through deception and lies. The presence of supernatural themes is prevalent in Macbeth. Supernatural themes are primarily used for evil purposes, they are agents of human beings but not instigators, Macbeth and his wife make their own choices though they are overruled with ambition.

At the beginning of Macbeth, three witches’ prophecies “…All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Cawdor! All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” Act 1, Scene 3, Line 50-51, foreshadowing Macbeth’s promotion, the basis of Macbeth’s journey of ambition, soon being engulfed into paranoia and greed. Macbeth’s character development shows the audience of his morality and self-doubt. The supernatural witches contributed to the spooky atmosphere, externalizing Macbeth’s moral side towards evil. Shakespeare portrayed witches as evil, prophesying about Macbeth to create chaos against his flaw of ambition. The guilt and trauma of Macbeth caused by Lady Macbeth’s pressure on Macbeth’s initial thoughts of murder result in the supernatural “dagger which I see before me” Act 2, Scene 1, Line 32 soliloquy. Macbeth’s fluctuating emotions towards the plan, the hallucination proves his growing ambition and madness. Elizabethans believed in the Great Chain of Being, that God determined the natural order of all that exists. It is believed that God chooses who comes to the throne. During the murder of Duncan, Lennox describes the disruptive events with symbolism and personification “The night has been unruly…, Our chimneys were blown down and, as they say, Lamentings heard I’ th’ air, strange screams of death,…”Act 2 Scene 3, Line 29-35. Duncan’s murder distorts the Chain of Being causing an imbalance in the world, reflected by nature.

The text demonstrates how the supernatural theme in Macbeth is essential to the plot and the structure of the play. Elizabethans were superstitious people and feared supernatural elements, the implementation of supernatural in Macbeth created an eerie atmosphere. Supernatural elements add to the level of complexity, ‘Macbeth’ is not a play only about a man who wants power, but rather a man who is open to evil and fully embraces it. Supernatural influences the mind of a character, in Macbeth’s case, the prophecies and apparitions impact his choices, generally being a wrong decision.

Macbeth achieves the definition of tragedy, through the supernatural and ambition/power themes an audience can experience the character development of a loyal man to a tragic hero. By witnessing the inner thoughts of characters, individuals can understand the cause and impact of human choices. Acts of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth demonstrate the importance of decisions, both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s over-ambitious decisions resulted in tragic consequences. The given evidence on choices has a significant impact on the character’s lives, therefore informing the audience of the effect of foolish decisions resulting in human suffering.

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Themes Of Power And Ambition In Macbeth. (2021, September 30). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 24, 2023, from
“Themes Of Power And Ambition In Macbeth.” Edubirdie, 30 Sept. 2021,
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Themes Of Power And Ambition In Macbeth [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 30 [cited 2023 Sept 24]. Available from:
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