Unchecked ambition and its tragic downfall
Ambition is more often than not, can be described as the common downfall for those who seek power. In the play “Macbeth”, written by William Shakespeare, Macbeth the main character of the play, changes from a good-hearted person to a downright greedy and evil man due to unchecked ambition. Another character in the play that ends her life tragically because of ambition is Lady Macbeth. These two characters go through a change as the play progresses and their change can be attributed to ambition.
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At the beginning of the play, Macbeth is portrayed as a loyal Thane to King Duncan but in the end, he becomes greedy and ignorant. When Macbeth reports his successful assignment in Cawdor to the King and when King Duncan praises and promotes him, Macbeth replies “The service and loyalty I owe, in doing it, pays itself.” (1.5.22-23)Here we can see that Macbeth is a very loyal servant to King Duncan and respects him greatly. The way his personality is described in this scene makes Macbeth out to be the person least likely to murder King Duncan.
But as the play progresses, we see a change in Macbeth after killing King Duncan. Another example of a change in Macbeth’s personality is that in the past Macbeth was not willing to take action. In Act 1 Scene 7, Lady Macbeth tries to convince Macbeth to kill King Duncan but Macbeth refuses. Eventually, Lady Macbeth wears him down and Macbeth agrees but Macbeth refusing to commit the crimes shows that Macbeth has morals and good-hearted man.
But when Macbeth achieves the throne, Macbeth becomes a greedy man who lusts for power. In Act 3 scene 1, Macbeth has a soliloquy that tells us how much he cherishes his throne. The prophecy states “To make them kings, the seeds of Banquo kings.”(3.1. 71) This would mean that Banquo children would become king. “Rather than so, come fate into the list, and champion me to the utterance!”(3 .1. 72-73) This also shows that Macbeth is not willing to admit defeat. He is willing to do anything let alone change Banquo to a death match to keep his power. This is very unlike Macbeth in the beginning of the play as in the beginning Macbeth was unwilling to kill King Duncan but now he becomes a man of action. Macbeth is now willing to do whatever it takes to keep his position of King for himself and his future children. He is no longer self-righteous or loyal instead is greedy, lust for power and loses his sense of morals all for the price of power.
Another character who is affected by ambition is Lady Macbeth. At the beginning of the play, Lady Macbeth is greedy and lusts for power. Although we never actually see Lady Macbeth before she chanced upon a sign to seize power, we still can see a change in her behaviour from the time she reads the letter to the time she convinces Macbeth to commit murder. In Act 1 Scene 5, after Lady Macbeth reads the letter sent to her from Macbeth, she takes it as a sign to kill King Duncan. Although she does not do it literally, she was the one who convinced Macbeth to do so and thus she too is also partially responsible for the murder.
Another example of Lady Macbeth at the beginning of the play is her soliloquy. “That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here… make thick my blood; stop up th’acess and passage to remorse, That no compunctious visiting nature.”(2.5.41-45)In this sense, Lady Macbeth is essentially asking to make her inhuman and that she feels no guilt or remorse. This tells me that Lady Macbeth is very ambitious and will do anything to get her way which is very much like Macbeth at the end of the play.
But unlike Macbeth, Lady Macbeth’s lust for power and unchecked ambition leads to her loss of sanity and eventually her demise. Towards the end of the play, we see Lady Macbeth pay the price for killing King Duncan to achieve power. “How she came by that light… it is an accustomed action with her to seem thus washing her hands.” (5.1. 21-28) Here we can see how the guilt and remorse Lady Macbeth is feeling is affecting her psychologically. Lady Macbeth filled with guilt and remorse is no longer the calm, quick thinking or rational person she was before.
Instead, due to her mental decline, she sleepwalks and repeats tasks and actions that happen during the night of the murder such as washing her hands. Also when sleep talking; Lady Macbeth also unknowingly starts confessing to the murder of King Duncan. Here we can see how her lust for power and unchecked ambition leads to her downfall and due to her guilt and remorse she commits suicide ending in a tragic death.
Here, we can see how ambition can cause a change in people. In Macbeth’s case, his lust for power and unchecked ambition led to his sudden change of personality and eventually his tragic death in the end. While in Lady Macbeth’s case, ambition did not affect her personality; it affected her mental state which eventually lead to her tragic downfall in the end. In conclusion, whether unchecked ambition causes a change for worse in one’s personality or a decline in one’s mental health, unchecked ambition more often than not leads to a lust for power which in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s case caused a tragic downfall.
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