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“Macbeth” Explores Ambition And Its Consequences

In scene three of act one, the witches for the second time in the play are seen. This time they are bragging about their unnatural actions and their powers over the human world. Macbeth and Banquo appear on what Macbeth describes as an unusual, “…foul and fair day.” A foul day would be commenting on the weather but a fair day since they have just been triumphant in a defeat in battle. This description of the day by Macbeth could also mean something else too. It could also represent what is about to happen as well. Fair prophecies are to be told soon, but at the same time they may turn out to be foul. When Macbeth and Banquo confront the witches, they are unsure of what or who they are. Unsure of whether they are mortal or immortal due to the things they are saying and how they appear since they have beards like men.

This can be seen when Banquo says, “…What are these,/ So withered, and so wild in their attire,/ That not look like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ earth,/ And yet don’t? Live you, or are you aught/ That man may question? You seem to understand/ By each at once her choppy finger laying/ Upon her skinny lips. You should be women,/ And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/ That you are so.” Then each of the witches hails Macbeth in three different ways. The first is Thane of Glamis. The second witch, Thane of Cawdor. The third witch hails Macbeth and speaks of him as King of Scotland thereafter. Banquo then questions the witches as to what they have to say to him. The first two witches build-up to the third witch’s comment that Banquo’s descendants will be kings. After this, Macbeth begins to question the witches for more information as to how these prophecies are to come true and how they know this information. All of a sudden the witches vanish into thin air leaving Banquo and Macbeth to talk about what has just happened and what has been said.

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Ross and Angus (two of Macbeth’s men) arrive and tell Macbeth of his elevation to Thane of Cawdor, and that the former thane is to be executed for treason. Macbeth and Banquo are in disbelief after being told this since what the witches have told them is really happening. Macbeth is now intent in believing he is to be king due to this occurrence of him becoming Thane of Cawdor. Banquo warns Macbeth that evil is at work even though such good things are being predicted and happening. Banquo is sure there is something sinister behind it all. Macbeth doesn’t want to hear what Banquo is telling him and begins to imagine what King of Scotland would mean for him. Macbeth and Banquo decide to let the future take care of itself and agree to discuss this matter at a more convenient time.

It is already clear that the two men aren’t in agreement about the situation. Macbeth believes what the witches have told them since part of what they have already said has come true. Banquo on the other hand is doubtful about what is happening and believes something evil and sinister is happening. Banquo is thinking logically and being very conscious about the current situation. Already ambition and temptation are effecting Macbeth’s actions and thoughts. Doubtfulness and a disagreement in opinion is the only thing challenging their relationship so far but it could get a lot worse. At this point, the reader may feel that Banquo is trying to tell Macbeth to not read too deeply into these prophecies told by the witches since they are believed to be evil by him. But on the other hand, Banquo may be regarded as jealous towards Macbeth about his good fortunes that are occurring. I think Banquo being regarded as jealous, is thought of more by Macbeth rather than the reader.

Macbeth may see Banquo as a threat since his descendants may challenge Macbeth’s position in years to come when he believes he shall be king of Scotland. Macbeth’s ambition within this scene has not yet caused consequences but may do in later scenes to come. When Macbeth enters and Lady Macbeth explains to him what her plans are of killing the king Macbeth does not appear as enthusiastic about the idea and is hesitant. He immediately explains that Duncan will be departing the next day. But Lady Macbeth simply says that he shall not see tomorrow and to leave the plans to her. It is understandable for Macbeth not to be all that enthusiastic about the idea of killing the king due to many aspects. These aspects include Duncan, being a relative of Macbeth’s, the potential of being caught, and also a matter of killing someone just to steal a title that belongs to an ally of his. Ambition from Lady Macbeth seems to be a threat towards Macbeth. Her violent, blistering soliloquies in act one, scene five, testify to her strength of will, which completely eclipses that of her husband.

The witches are the cause of Lady Macbeth’s actions and ideas. Their prophecies have so far influenced both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, although Lady Macbeth considerably more so at this point within the play. In scene six Duncan arrives at Macbeth’s castle and is greeted warmly by Lady Macbeth. A very false greeting since the thoughts and ideas running through her mind is far more different than what she is expressing to Duncan in greeting him. This is a false sense of security from Lady Macbeth towards Duncan. Ambition is feeding this false sense of security from Lady Macbeth towards Duncan since this is part of her plan to kill the king. Scene seven begins with Macbeth debating to himself the options he has in murdering or not murdering Duncan. He says that the deed would be easy if he could be certain that it would not set in motion a series of terrible consequences. He then considers the reasons why he ought not to kill Duncan.

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The reasons include: Macbeth is Duncan’s kinsman, subject and host. For someone to be related to and host someone else, then murder them is seen upon as inconceivable. He then comes to the decision to not kill Duncan since the only thing to ‘drive’ his actions of killing the king would be his ambition, which he sees as an unreliable guide. Lady Macbeth is now expressing outrage towards Macbeth and trying to gain sympathy from him towards her since she has just told him that he is not providing her with enough love just because he won’t kill Duncan. This is a very desperate resort that further expresses Lady Macbeth’s character towards the audience. Ambition is driving her evil actions. As Macbeth begins to waver after Lady Macbeth’s insults towards him, she then explains her plan. Immediately after she has explained her plan, Macbeth is surprised by her well-thought-out plan and her boldness/attitude. He then decides to proceed with the murder.

Lady Macbeth’s attitude and ambition are influencing Macbeth to such an extent as to change his feelings and ideas towards the subject. This emphasizes the power of ambition expressed from one person towards another. The witches’ prophecies and Lady Macbeth’s ambition together have made Macbeth’s ideas and opinions change completely. In act two, scene 1, Banquo and Fleance are walking along the hallway of Macbeth’s castle. Banquo tells his son, Fleance, about him being unable to sleep properly due to cursed thoughts and dreams. This shows that the three witches are having an effect on Banquo. When Banquo and his son are confronted by Macbeth in the hallway, Banquo speaks of the witches telling some truth. Macbeth replies in an innocent way and says, “I think not of them./ Yet when we can entreat an hour to serve,/ We would spend it in some words upon that business…” Macbeth is telling Banquo a blatant lie about his thoughts and feelings about the witches. Macbeth tells Banquo that he has thought nothing of them since the night they both confronted them.

They then both agree to talk about the subject of the witches and their prophecies at a later time. Lady Macbeth’s plans have made Macbeth lie to his own friend and a great friend of that who he fought with side by side in battle. If Macbeth had told Banquo the truth in that he had been thinking about the witches a lot of the time, Banquo may suspect something when the king is killed in Macbeth’s own home and then Macbeth becomes king! Banquo’s knowledge of the witches’ prophecy makes him both a potential ally and a potential threat to Macbeth’s plotting. For now, Macbeth seems distrustful of Banquo and pretends to have hardly thought of the witches, but Macbeth’s desire to discuss the prophecies at some future time suggests that he may have some sort of conspiratorial plans in mind. The appearance of Fleance, Banquo’s son, serves as a reminder of the witches’ prediction that Banquo’s children will sit on the throne of Scotland.

We realize that if Macbeth succeeds in the murder of Duncan, he will be driven to still more violence before his crown is secure, and Fleance will be in immediate and mortal danger. Ambition and determination from both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth will drive someone to kill Fleance or Banquo or even both at some point since these characters are potential threats in preventing Macbeth from the remaining king of Scotland. As soon as Macbeth and Fleance depart and leave Macbeth alone, Macbeth imagines that he sees a dagger leading/pointing him in the direction of Duncan’s room. Macbeth tries to grasp the weapon and fails. He wonders whether what he sees is real or a, “A dagger of the mind, a false creation,/ Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?” Macbeth decides that the vision of the dagger was simply a manifestation of his unease over killing Duncan.

It is obvious that Macbeth is not overly confident nor enthusiastic about the matter of murdering Duncan but his ‘lover’ has literally forced him into this position through mockery and ambition. As Macbeth hears the signal of the bell rung by Lady Macbeth he heads off to the king’s room and commits the murder and says, “I go, and it is done./ The bell invites me./ Hear it not Duncan, for it is knell/ That summons thee to heaven or to hell.” This is Macbeth’s concluding speech before going on to commit the murder of Duncan. In act two at the beginning of scene one, Lady Macbeth is waiting for Macbeth to return, is found contemplating to herself about drugging the king’s guards and congratulating herself as to how bold she is to carry out such actions. She also asks herself what gave her such courage, evil or sinister spirits perhaps as she asked for earlier on in the play?

She says this at the beginning of scene two-act one, “That which hath made them drunk hath made me bold;/ What hath quenched them hath given me fire./ Hark! Peace!” She obviously doesn’t want anyone else to hear what she is saying since she appears startled when Macbeth enters. Macbeth appears dazed and obsessed with thoughts of damnation after committing the murder. Lady Macbeth notices the blood-drenched daggers within the hands of Macbeth. She tells him to pull himself together after this dreadful mistake and also shouting, “Who’s there? What ho!” Lady Macbeth warns Macbeth that he may have woken the guards after that silly act of shouting and tells him to return the daggers to the guards as planned. Macbeth refuses and so Lady Macbeth places the daggers next to the guards herself. Effects of shock and disbelief are gradually setting into Macbeth and this can be seen by his type of language spoken.

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This can be seen when Lady Macbeths tell him to return the daggers and he replies, “I’ll go no more./ I am afraid to think about what I have done./ Look don’t again I dare not.” Macbeth appears to be unable to face up to what he has done, not even to himself and is ashamed of himself after carrying out the murder. He is in shock and in denial over the whole situation. Macbeth appears scared and frightened of his own actions and all of this because of ambition from Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. As the two go to wash their hands and prepare to get changed into their nightclothes there is a knocking on the door of the castle and the murderer and his accomplice frantically get changed so to enable no one to suspect them as the possible murderers.

The effect on Lady Macbeth after her trip into Duncan’s bedroom is particularly striking. She claims that she would have killed Duncan herself except that he resembled her father sleeping. This is the first time Lady Macbeth shows herself to be at all vulnerable. Her comparison of Duncan to her father suggests that despite her desire for power and her harsh chastisement of Macbeth, she sees her king as an authority figure to which she must be loyal. Also after the murdering of Duncan, an important aspect to remember is that physical evidence can be washed away, like the blood to be washed off the skin of the hands, but emotional and mental feelings cannot be so easily removed and disposed of. This can be seen a little later in the play when Macbeth begins to act disturbingly and struggles to hold in his feelings.

In the first scene of act three, Banquo is summing up the current situation. He has now witnessed two of the witches ‘ prophecies coming true, why not the next? If the next prophecy comes true that means Banquo’s descendants shall become king. Ambition and hope are now feeding Banquo’s motivation towards believing that the next prophecy shall come true. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are now attempting to put Banquo’s mind at ease by inviting him to a feast. Doing this they hope to prevent Banquo from getting suspicious about the murder of Duncan and so not think it was Macbeth and Lady Macbeth who were involved in the murder. If they both tried to avoid any sort of contact with Banquo, it would seem suspicious and suspect since he is such a good friend of Macbeth’s. Macbeth goes onto tell Banquo that they must discuss the problem of Malcolm and Donalbain fleeing and therefore possibly intending to plot against the crown. So far, Macbeth is covering his guilt very successfully and appearing genuine and true towards Banquo. A false sense of security is given from Macbeth towards Banquo.

When Banquo departs, Macbeth remains on stage and begins a soliloquy. The soliloquy is of Macbeth’s thoughts about Banquo and the threat he holds with Fleance too. He speaks of how he may have killed Duncan only for their sake in the future to come. He fears killing Duncan has assisted them in becoming king a lot sooner than Macbeth wants. Macbeth’s best friend is now is the worst threat. Banquo and Fleance are a great threat to Macbeth’s position of kingship. Macbeth’s and his Lady’s ambition for wanting everything and nothing but the best in kingship is beginning to have its consequences. Macbeth now knows he must get rid of both Banquo and Fleance so to prevent any such threat remaining towards Macbeth and his position as king of Scotland. He speaks with two murderers to whom he had already spoken the day before, assuring them that their misfortunes are Banquo’s fault. He tries to urge them to take revenge upon Banquo and his family.

He tries to persuade the two murderers that if they carry the intended job out, that then proves them to be “real” men. They agree to the proposed job Macbeth is telling them to do and he stresses to kill both of them, Banquo and Fleance. Macbeth is now needing more people killed (to feed his ambition and determination in becoming king) although not carrying the offence out himself. This may be due to the fact that killing Duncan is taking effect and that Macbeth can not bear to kill another friend of his just for his good. This killing is an act of selfishness, greediness and desperation. He may not be carrying out the murder himself because he feels he is unable to kill such a dear friend and a friend he has fought side by side within the battle. He also may not want to murder Banquo and Fleance because it may appear suspicious if another murder occurs and no witnesses available to say where Macbeth was at the time.

If people know where Macbeth is, they cannot suspect him of being guilty of the murder. Macbeth doesn’t want to risk being caught by anyone and so has appointed these two men to do the job for him. Macbeth has no hesitation in killing Banquo and Fleance, which shows his ambition and determination are driving his actions. Macbeth’s conscience is no longer a part of his decisions he makes. Ambition appears to have replaced common sense. He is organizing the death of one of his best friends and his friend’s son just so he can remain as king. It’s hard to believe that the murders Macbeth is responsible for (in carrying out and planning) have all been down to prophecies told and Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s ambition and determination in making the prophecies happen. Macbeth now appears more able and independent, since Lady Macbeth has had no say in the plan of killing Banquo and Fleance, which we are aware of.

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Lady Macbeth’s ambition and determination earlier on in killing Duncan is now consequently making Macbeth more determined to remain king. This is an awful consequence due to the fact that innocent friends and relatives of Macbeth are dying just so Macbeth and Lady Macbeth can preserve their hierarchal status. These are very selfish and ambitious ways of keeping it their own way, the way they want it to be. In scene two, act three, Lady Macbeth is urging Macbeth to put the past behind him due to being uneasy about how Macbeth is. Macbeth hints that he has a plan that is intended to be carried out that evening. He gives no details but he believes she will approve of his plans and actions. Macbeth, through Lady Macbeth’s eyes, is now appearing to be in full control of making sure that he remains king and she remains the queen of Scotland. It is clear that Lady Macbeth is uneasy about it, but she covers her feelings when around Macbeth.

After all, it was her motivation and ambition that has made Macbeth what he is now both king but at the same time a ruthless killer if needs be just to hold the current position of king. It is clear now that Macbeth’s ambition is feeding his motivation. In scene four, this is where it all starts to go wrong for Macbeth and for Lady Macbeth too. Macbeth learns that only Banquo was murdered and Fleance escaped from the attempt at killing both. Macbeth is angered at this result and tells himself, “There the grown serpent lies;/ the worm that’s fled Hath nature that in time will venom breed…” He basically talks of how Banquo (the grown serpent) lies dead but the younger and growing boy, Fleance (the worm) is still at large and later in life he will pose a threat. Shakespeare refers to the pair as snakes and worms due to the fact that they can strike at any time and are hard to kill or catch. This sums up Fleance perfectly since he could strike at any time and therefore pose a threat, and also is hard to kill.

This is disastrous for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth because it is Fleance that must be killed since he is the main threat to Macbeth’s kingship. If Banquo survived suspicions would arise, but with Banquo dead and Fleance still alive, suspicions are still going to occur and also the threat is still at large for Macbeth and his lady. As the banquet begins and Macbeth sits down with his friends to eat he finds a ghost of Banquo sat in his seat. Invisible to anyone else at the banquet, Macbeth begins to talk to the ghost in the chair although through the eyes of the people attending the banquet it would appear to be Macbeth talking to a chair. If he starts saying too much he may give away information about murders that they have planned and carried out to the other guests. The side effects of the deception, ambition and lies are now beginning to take effect on Macbeth. He is hallucinating images of his victim which means he is worried about the matter a great deal. All this is a consequence of over-ambitious actions carried out by both Lady Macbeth and Macbeth himself.

Shakespeare fundamentally shows ambition in two different ways in ‘Macbeth’. He shows how ambition can have dreadful consequences and how it can ruin your life. In Macbeth’s case, he dies which is the ultimate price to pay for his ambition and attempting to change nature’s course. Shakespeare also shows ambition as a good thing through Banquo’s actions as he stays level-headed and lives life each day at a time. Banquo and his role in ‘Macbeth’ represent the better side of ambition but Macbeth represents the worst side of ambition. Ambition is generally looked upon as a good aspect to a person, but Shakespeare successfully shows how ambition can be both good and bad and what consequences can occur if you have too much of it in ‘Macbeth’.

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