An Analysis of Macbeth’s Ambition

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Napoleon Bonaparte once said, ‘Great ambition is the passion of great character. Those endowed with it may perform good or very bad acts. All depends on the principles that direct them .’ In William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, we see how Macbeth takes a prophecy he gets of potentially becoming a king into his own hands and goes above and beyond to seize and keep the throne. In this paper, I will first explain how akrasia and the existence of bad company were the driving forces for Macbeth’s ambition to gain power.

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Next, I will explain how paranoia and despair become the factors that drive Macbeth’s ambition to keep power. I will also explain the consequences Macbeth had to face because of his over-ambition. Macbeth’s relentless pursuit to seize and keep the throne portrays how treacherous obsession with ambition can lead to undesirable consequences reflected by Macbeth’s catastrophic collapse.

Akrasia was Macbeth’s first drive for his ambition to become king. Macbeth was a noble and hard-working man even though known to be a valiant soldier. He was also the army general and a man great at his job but after stumbling across the prophecy that he could be king everything he had suddenly was not enough, he wanted more. The weakness of will drove Macbeth to do things he would not have normally done as he says “I have no spur to prick the sides of my

intent, but only vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself, and falls on the other.(1.7.25-28). The metaphor, no spur to prick the sides of my intent could mean that Macbeth has no probable cause to kill King Duncan. According to the Cambridge dictionary, vaulting ambition is ‘a strong wish to be extremely successful, powerful, rich, etc., and a belief that this is more important than anything else. Shakespeare uses of vivid vocabulary and a metaphor to emphasize the depth of Macbeth’s awareness of his unethical actions and his irreversible drive to commit murder for the throne thus akrasia.

Lady Macbeth Ambition

Lady Macbeth is a corrupt trigger that influences Macbeth into seizing power in an immoral way. Macbeth a nobleman who comes across a prophecy from the witches’ All hail Macbeth thou shalt be king hereafter. Thereafter, Lady Macbeth receives the news from her husband about this prophecy. She talks him into killing Duncan to take the throne and when he shows reluctance, We will proceed no further in this business. He hath honored me of late, and I have bought, Golden opinions from all sorts of people, which would be worn now in their newest gloss, not cast aside so soon. she challenges his manhood, When you durst do it, then you were a man. And to be more than what you were, you would, Be so much more the man’. (1.7.49-51).

Lady Macbeth provides a correlation between murder and masculinity which means that Macbeth becomes a man only after he commits murder and that before that he is not a man if he withholds and this agrees with the perspective in the Elizabethan period where society masculinity is viewed as overpowering and overarching. George William Gerwing in the article “Lady Macbeth.” Shakespearean Criticism analyzes Lady Macbeth’s character and highlights how ambition for lady Macbeth is more sacrificing than it is selfish as her desire is to sorely help her husband at the expense of her own dreams if any. The authors clarify a contrasting assumption that Lady Macbeth’s ambition was cruelty and greed-driven but rather as a woman who dedicated her lifetime and energy to Macbeth and made sure he became king and stayed King for as long as she lived thus Lady Macbeth was not bad company but rather a woman who supported her husband in a way she could. However, in agreement with Langis, and Unhae in the article Shakespeare and Prudential Psychology: Ambition and Akrasia in Macbeth, virtue should be a part of one’s drive in ambition, and upholding virtue does not make one ambitious. Lady Macbeth’s masculinity manipulations drove Macbeth also gives Macbeth the motivation to totally disregard virtue and commit murder thus her failure to be his voice of reason hence she was in bad company.

Lastly, Macbeth fights to keep the throne even in moments of despair, showing how his desire for power had gone out of control. Macbeth is told by his wife at the beginning of the play that as long as they do everything together it will be alright. Macbeth’s wife does and since she was his partner in crime and voice of reason he could have ended the strive for power but instead he is persistent regardless. Later on, Macbeth approaches Macduff with confidence that he would attain victory as he says, Thou losest labor, As easy mayst thou the in trenchant air

With thy keen sword impress as make me bleed:

Let fall thy blade on vulnerable crests;

I bear a charmed life, which must not yield,

To one of woman born. Macbeth refers to his life as charmed which suggests that he had had everything he needed as king and he was undefeatable to all men. Macduff’s reply. Despair thy charm;

And let the angel whom thou still hast served

Tell thee, Macduff was from his mother’s womb

Untimely ripped (5.8.1-20) changes the outcome of things. Macduff’s mention of his birth from his mother’s womb Untimely ripp’d literally meant that he was not born the natural way but with C section instead Macbeth had been foretold by the witches that he had to be away of a man not born woman and he actually met Macduff who fit the description. Macduff mentioning this shows how destiny and reality coincide with one another. Macbeth’s last hope is destroyed by this revelation Regardless of being aware of the truth, Macbeth did not run for his life or hide rather he was willing to fight until his last breath. Macbeth’s ambition to keep the throne over consumes him that he is willing to exchange his life to keep the place even after knowing that it is a hopeless fight.

However, in agreement with Langis, and Unhae in the article Shakespeare and Prudential Psychology: Ambition and Akrasia in Macbeth, virtue should be a part of one’s drive in ambition and upholding virtue does not make one ambitious. Lady Macbeth’s masculinity manipulations drove Macbeth also gives Macbeth the motivation to totally disregard virtue and commit murder thus her failure to be his voice of reason hence she was bad company.

Blind Ambition

Macbeth thought he only had to kill King Duncan in order to make him king but throughout the play we see how paranoia leads him to become a ruthless murder. Before committing the murder Macbeth thinks nothing could possibly go wrong but after, he hears voices say Glamis hath murdered sleep, and therefore Cawdor shall sleep no more, Macbeth shall sleep no more”( Sleep is a crucial part of our daily lives and signifies rest and end of the day. Glamis hath murdered sleep could be symbolic of how Macbeth’s act of murder has resulted in destruction of peace because it was for personal gain. Next, Cawdor shall sleep no more how he has to carry the unease and responsibility of his actions from this day forward. The last part of the phrase, Macbeth shall sleep no more, could be symbolic of the his future self who has to constantly protect his unruly acts constant therefore his mind will not be at ease nor can he rest.

Repetition of this loss of sleep and Macbeth hearing voices shows anxious thoughts which reflect his paranoia. According to Mental Health America. Paranoia involves intense anxious feelings and thoughts often related to persecution, threat or conspiracy. Macbeth because he had committed murder starts hearing voices chastising his crime becomes delusional and acts defensively by killing the guards. He does not stop there, he also feels threatened and goes on to kill his friend Banquo. Instead of focusing on being a king for the people Macbeth is too worried about the threats around him showing how paranoia was driving his ambition to remain king.

Throughout this tragedy play we explore all that Macbeth did to keep the throne. He killed king Duncan, killed the two guards out of paranoia, killed his friend Banquo because he felt threatened, ordered killing of Lady Macduff just so he could remain king. This is a reflection of how Macbeth is a true Machiavellian. Because he killed and ordered killing which is immoral and shows that he wanted to advance by any means necessary. Just as Hergie Alexis, & Kossi Joiny points out in the article Machiavellism in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth: A Critical tudy, ambition is covered by Machiavelli in Macbeth when Macbeth’s dream to be king is fulfilled and mantained through a cunning political plot of killing and this creates a lot of diorder and ultimately leads to his death.

As proven in Macbeth by Williams Shakespeare, Macbeth’s ambition makes him blind to the consequences of securing power. Throughout the play, Macbeth’s sole purpose became being king and staying as king by however means necessary. Even though that was what seemed to be his greatest victory, he became a murderer with tainted hands, lost his noble character, killed friends, became a tyrant, lost his wife and in the end he died. Through it all Macbeth lost more than he ever gained and even the throne itself became a curse more than it was a blessing.

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An Analysis of Macbeth's Ambition. (2020, May 04). Retrieved from