Ambition in Macbeth Essay Example


“What matters are those ordinary acts of kindness and of love, not vaulting ambition with its attendant hubris and smugness.” This is a quote by Michael Dirda who is a book critic for the Washington Post. The theme that Shakespeare wants to portray to his readers in the play is shown in this quote. Macbeth, which is a Scottish play written in 1606 by William Shakespeare, is about a fearless and courageous warrior that becomes a tragic hero named Macbeth. Macbeth is advanced from Thane of Glamis to Thane of Cawdor because of his bravery in battles. After hearing the three prophecies of the witches that he will become king, he is overcome by ambition and greed. With Lady Macbeth’s motivation and his vaulting ambition, Macbeth decides to kill King Duncan. After his murder of King Duncan, Macbeth is full of guilt and fear. He commits more murders afterward which leads him to become a tragic hero. Macbeth’s tragic flaw of ambition motivates him to make destructive decisions leading to his own undoing. I am going to discuss the quotes that Macbeth delivers about his ambition and his actions. 

In Act 1, Scene 3

In Act 1, Scene 3, Lines 126-141, Macbeth thinks aloud in a soliloquy. This frightens not only Macbeth but also us because it shows that he is considering a murder secretly. 

Two truths are told,

As happy prologues to the swelling act

Of the imperial theme.--I thank you, gentlemen.

Aside

Cannot be ill, cannot be good: if ill,

Why hath it given me earnest of success,

Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor:

If good, why do I yield to that suggestion

Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,

Against the use of nature? Present fears

Are less than horrible imaginings:

My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,

Shakes so my single state of man that function

Is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is

But what is not.

For Macbeth, the two truths of becoming Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor came true. After receiving a new title, Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth believes that the third saying of the witches that he will become king will also come true. “If bad, why have the witches told me this news? If good, why do I have a horrific idea of murdering Duncan?” (line 130-135) shows Macbeth thinking that being Thane of Cawdor is neither bad nor good. This shows the equivocation “fair and foul, and foul is fair” which comes out throughout the whole play. Macbeth thinks of a very foul way of becoming king by murdering Duncan. This shows that Macbeth’s ambition of being king has been sitting on him. However, Macbeth is very frightened about his own plan and is uncertain if he should commit the murder.

Act 1, Scene 7

King Duncan and his followers approach Macbeth’s castle and Lady Macbeth greets them. Macbeth leaves the dinner, suddenly worried about his plan of murder and gives a speech about his thoughts on the murder. This speech is on Act 1, Scene 7, Lines 1-28. 

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well

It were done quickly: if the assassination

Could trammel up the consequence, and catch

With his surcease success; that but this blow

Might be the be-all and the end-all here,

But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,

We'ld jump the life to come. But in these cases

We still have judgment here; that we but teach

Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return

To plague the inventor: this even-handed justice

Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice

To our own lips. He's here in double trust;

First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,

Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,

Who should against his murderer shut the door,

Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan

Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been

So clear in his great office, that his virtues

Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued, against

The deep damnation of his taking-off;

And pity, like a naked new-born babe,

Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubim, horsed

Upon the sightless couriers of the air,

Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye,

That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur

To prick the sides of my intent, but only

Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself

And falls on the other.

After hearing that Malcolm, son of King Duncan, will become the next king of Scotland, Macbeth is furious. Murdering King Duncan had been a fantasy all along, but now, it has become a moral problem for Macbeth. Macbeth knows that he shouldn’t commit the murder because he is Duncan’s host and his kinsman and he is supposed to protect him not kill him. Here is the quote. “First, as I am his kinsman and his subject, Strong both against the deed; then, as his host, Who should against his murderer shut the door, Not bear the knife myself.” (line 13-16) Macbeth sees heavenly powers in a state of horror such as murder and he sees that pity is personified as a naked newborn baby.

The speech builds and it reaches the climax when Macbeth turns his own wretched motive for committing a crime. Macbeth compares his situation to riding a horse. In horseback riding, if the rider wants the horse to go faster, he can put a spur on the boot which pricks the horse and it motivates it to go faster. Macbeth is looking for a mental spur, a valid reason that would make killing the king easier. Macbeth says “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent.” (line 25-26) He compares his situation to riding a horse once again and says that his excessive ambition is like a horse that tries to jump too high and falls on the other side of the fence. Here is the quote. “Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself.”(line 27-28) Macbeth makes up his mind to tell Lady Macbeth that he is not going to go further in this business. Surprisingly, Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth if he doesn’t kill the king, he is not a man. She says that if she had agreed to do something, she would do it and gives a horrifying example of killing a newborn baby. Macbeth gets persuaded by Lady Macbeth and they decide to kill King Duncan. 

Act 4 Scene 1

Macbeth has become very violent and is not scared of murder. After Lennox tells Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England, Macbeth delivers a speech of what he will do next and how he feels about Macduff. This speech is on Act 4 Scene 1, Lines 143-155.

Time, thou anticipatest my dread exploits:

The flighty purpose never is o'ertook

Unless the deed go with it; from this moment

The very firstlings of my heart shall be

The firstlings of my hand. And even now,

To crown my thoughts with acts, be it thought and done:

The castle of Macduff I will surprise;

Seize upon Fife; give to the edge o' the sword

His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls

That trace him in his line. No boasting like a fool;

This deed I'll do before this purpose cool.

But no more sights!--Where are these gentlemen?

Come, bring me where they are.

Macbeth decides to see the witches for the second time because he is afraid that he will lose his position as king. The witches are sitting around in a cauldron and they show Macbeth three apparitions, an armed head that says “Beware Macduff”, a bloody child that says “Macbeth is not going to be threatened from anyone that is born from a woman”, and a child wearing a crown holding a tree who says “Macbeth shall never vanquished be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill shall come against him.” and then the witches vanish. Macbeth is very confident that he will reign as king for a long time because every man is born from a woman, and trees from a forest can’t move. Then, Lennox comes to tell Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England. Macbeth is enraged and says that he will carry out his actions without thinking. “The very firstlings of my heart shall be the firstlings of my hand.” (line 146-147)  Macbeth says that he will kill all the people related to Macduff including the innocent people. This shows how combative Macbeth has become.

In conclusion, Macbeth is frightened of the murder and doesn’t know if he should commit it or not. Macbeth thinks about the murder and decides not to murder Duncan. However, Lady Macbeth hears that and she convinces Macbeth to murder King Duncan in order for him to become the new king. Macbeth becomes very guilty and becomes very violent. I learned a few lessons from Macbeth. First, I learned to be grateful for the position I’m in right now and the things that I have. Macbeth wanted more than being Thane of Cawdor and he murdered Duncan to become king which led to his destruction. Second, I learned to think before putting thoughts into action. Macbeth turned his thoughts into action before thinking about it and he ended up making wrong decisions. If Macbeth was grateful for his position and wasn’t so greedy would his outcome have been different?

 

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