“Macbeth” by William Shakespeare is a tragic play that tells the terrible tale of a once powerful and respected general who is brought down by his own malicious ambition. The main character, Macbeth, who was once the envy of many, becomes immoral due to a yearning for power which drives him to commit despicable misdemeanours against his own people. Shakespeare brilliantly portrays how the predominant character is intensively guilt-ridden by his own exploits, then adapts slaughtering paranoia before he resigns from his life altogether. Meanwhile, Macbeth’s deeds, driven by his longings and ambition, have caused others to despise him.
Before Macbeth’s reckless ambition begins to control his actions, he is thought of as a ruthless, heroic, yet noble soldier. In the early scenes of act one, King Duncan hears highly of Macbeth’s performance on the bloody battlefield, where he massacred a Scottish traitor venturously. Due to the praises of the Captain, the reader already has a vivid idea of how respected and esteemed Macbeth is at the start of the play. The wounded Captain even says; “For brave Macbeth – well he deserves that name – disdained fortune, with his brandished steel… like valour’s minion.”
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This shows that Macbeth is hugely admired by someone who is probably just a mere acquaintance. At this point in the play, Macbeth definitely has ambition because he wouldn’t have gotten this far without it, but the difference is that even though he has this ambition, he still receives worship and honour. Once Macbeth is titled Thane of Cawdor, his controlling ambition begins to direct his thought and actions. When Macbeth and Banquo meet the weird sisters and hear their queer prophecies, Macbeth is determined – or even desperate – to hear more about his upcoming success:
“Stay you, imperfect speakers. Tell me more.” This is the first sign of his ambition as he refuses to overlook the witches’ predictions and his tone of voice also implies his desperation as he speaks rapidly and angrily, in short sentences. In scene seven of act one, Macbeth is losing a battle against his own ambition as it grasps and influences his thoughts greatly, in his soliloquy; he admits that his ambition is too big: “I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself and falls on the other”.
Macbeth states that he has no real reason to kill Duncan, but his excessive ambition is too dominant to subside. He already has evil thoughts in his mind at an early stage of the play as he is hoping for/planning the death of a nobleman and his innocent children. It makes the reader wonder how drastically he will change throughout the rest of the play and how uncontrollable his ambition will become. After murdering Duncan, Macbeth is suddenly hit by immense remorse and anguish, he becomes a wreck. “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No: this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, Making the green one red.” The enormity of his crime has awakened Macbeth and given him a powerful sense of guilt that will hound him throughout the play.
Duncan’s blood serves as the symbol of that guilt, and Macbeth knows that “all great Neptune’s ocean” cannot cleanse him, that there is enough blood on his hands to turn the entire seared and this will stay with him until his death. He also realises that he is now in association with hell and pure evil; “But wherefore could I not pronounce ‘Amen’? I had most need of blessing and ‘Amen’ stuck in my throat.” Macbeth needed God’s blessing the most due to the austere sin he has violated but he is terror-stricken by his inability to say ‘Amen’. He is now conscious of how his ambition has driven him too far and forced him to do something he knew was wrong all the while. He wasn’t content with the perfectly good life he had before and has now ruined it because he will forevermore be full of penitence.
Macbeth’s remorse and penitence briskly change to tremendous paranoia and ruthlessness. It is, once again, the ambition that has caused Macbeth to be stripped of his male bravado and revealed to be paranoid and frightful: “Then comes my fit again. I had else been perfect, Whole as the marble, founded as the rock, as broad and general as the casing air. But now I am cabined, cribbed, confined, bound into saucy doubts and fears.” Macbeth admits that he is currently tangled up with doubts and fears and everything would be perfectly intact without them. His ambitious desires and aspirations to keep his wrongly claimed throne have caused him to murder those he was once loyal to.
“I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.” Since Macbeth’s ambition has caused him to cross major lines, he will never turn back and he will kill anyone who stands in his way. Even though he knows he can never forgive himself for his selfish deeds, he decides that now he has the power his ambition craved, he must do everything in his ability to keep it. While Macbeth is continuing to slaughter those who pose a possible threat to him, the people of his country grow to loathe him. Macbeth’s ambition has gained him a defeated victory because even though he has everything he wanted, he also has everything he didn’t want – his own people seeing him as a blight in Scotland:
“O nation miserable! With an untitled tyrant, bloody-sceptred.” Macduff is horrified that Scotland has become such a ‘miserable’ place now that Macbeth, a betraying dictator, is in control. Macbeth is described as “bloody-sceptred” because he has the title of king by shedding blood and is only kept in power through murder, which is why he is ‘untitled’. “Or so much as it needs, To dew the sovereign flower and drown the weeds.” This quote shows that Macbeth is the evil villain and Malcolm is the hero because the soldiers are saying that they will give as much blood as they have to, in order to get rid of Macbeth. Macbeth, who was once the war hero of Scotland, is now compared to a weed that is killing the flowers of Scotland. He was a highly respected man but his wicked ambition led him to want more, now he has less respect than ever before.
At the peak of the play, tyrant Macbeth begins to understand that his chaotic ambition took him nowhere; he becomes pessimistic, downhearted and resigned from life: “I have lived long enough. My way of life is fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf, and that which should accompany old age, as honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have.” Macbeth seems to think he has lived long enough and he compares his life to a yellowing leaf in Autumn; withering and falling away. He also admits that he doesn’t own any of the things any other man should have in old age, such as love, honour and many good friends; he has given up on these.
“Better be with the dead, whom we, to gain our peace, have sent to peace, than on the torture of the mind to lie in restless ecstasy.” Macbeth would rather be dead than having to endure the endless mental torture and lack of sleep. He has grown tired of life and envies the dead as they can no longer be tormented. He realises that all the sinful deeds his crazy ambition drove him to commit were meaningless as his power is impotent. The ambition he always had was easily fuelled by the ambiguous prophecies of the deceiving witches.
In conclusion, the adversity “Macbeth” by William Shakespeare renders the downfall of a glorified, respected man who is brought down by his vicious ambition in six stages. At first, Macbeth maintains control and channels his ambition into helping those he is loyal to but after hearing what could be, he yearns for more. Once he takes drastic measures to try and reach his goals, he is plagued by regret and knows he has been forever damned for his actions. Macbeth’s ambition leads him to secure his power; he overlooks his guilt and focuses on doing whatever it takes to hold onto his authority.
Eventually, the people of his wrongly claimed country learn of his maliciousness and see him as blight in Scotland. Due to the stress his ambition has caused him, Macbeth becomes resigned and fatalistic; he grows tired of life. He understands that he has been tricked by the three witches and simply doesn’t want to live anymore because he knows his ambition caused him to break all bonds of loyalty and trust. Shakespeare brilliantly demonstrates, in a variety of techniques, how just ambition alone can bring down even the greatest of men.