The Power of Macbeth Ambition is often the driving force in one’s life. It is supposed to be the motivating factor that drives one towards success. Society also deems ambition a necessary quality of their leader. It can be said that Macbeth exhibits this quality. He is the strong, valiant warrior who has won in battle and brought victory to Scotland. However, Macbeth’s quest to acquire more power – his ambition – ultimately leads to his downfall. How can one allow himself to be destroyed by such a thing?
Before Duncan’s murder, Macbeth questions and second guesses his ambitious tendencies and actions. Despite his anxiety, he succumbs to these tendencies and finds himself in more trouble than he anticipated. His guilty conscience haunts him and his unforgiving deeds come back to trouble him. Macbeths’ actions are clearly motivated by his overpowering ambition and his unquenchable thirst for power; at the beginning of the play his ambition is channelled into positive deeds, but ultimately it results in his tragic demise. There is no doubt that Macbeth is a noble man.
He risked everything he had to protect Scotland from Norway, and single-handedly took down the treacherous Thane of Cawdor: “Till that Bellona’s bridegroom, lapped in proof, / Confronted him with self-comparisons, / Point against point, rebellious arm ‘gainst arm, / Curbing his lavish spirit: and, to conclude, / The victory fell on us” (I, ii, ll 61-65). Macbeth is seen as a brave and noble man by all of his peers, and even King Duncan himself. At the beginning of the play, Macbeths’ ambition was for a greater good because he was fighting for his King and country, not his own well-fare.
This is why Duncan proclaims, “What he hath lost, noble Macbeth hath won” (I, ii, l 67). By this, he is referring to the fact that he named Macbeth to be Thane of Cawdor because of his astonishing bravery in battle and unfailing loyalty. One would think that after such an accomplishment and position of high standing that Macbeth would be satisfied. This, however, is not the case. Macbeth’s ambition does not just drive him to do great things, it in fact controls him: “I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself / And falls on the other” (I, vii, ll 25-28).
It is obvious that Macbeth has ambition, as most people who are in power do. In fact, ambition is often a necessary quality of people in such high standing as Macbeth. However, he also clearly realizes that his ambition is too great and it is about to make him do something that he knows is wrong. It is against for which everything he has supposedly stood, yet he also knows there is nothing he can do to stop it. Macbeth does, however, try to refrain from murdering Duncan; he second guesses his intent to go through with the crime before committing it: “We will proceed no further in this business. He hath honoured me of late, and I have bought / Golden opinions from all sorts of people” (I, vii, ll 33-35). He realizes that maybe he is just better off in the position he is in right now. Maybe he should wait and acquire his higher standing in a noble way or he might not have to do anything and fate will grant him the throne without his interference. However, Lady Macbeth goads him into committing the murder anyway by questioning 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.
Nor time nor place / Did then adhere, and yet you would make both. / They have made themselves, and that their fitness now / Does unmake you” (I, vii, ll 54-59). After the murder, one can see a clear shift in Macbeth. To drown his shameful acts of unforgivable treachery, Macbeth takes the path of dishonesty and fabricated deception. It is as if his killing of one man opened the flood gates for a litany of other murders he felt he needed to commit; his ordering the murders of Banquo and his son Fleance, who were once dear to him, and those of Lady Macduff and her son.
It is as if his ambition is blinding him of his wrong-doings. One can look at Macbeth’s actions after his murder of Duncan and see that he is clearly headed on a path leading to tragedy, originated from one source: his ambition. Furthermore, it is fair to say that Macbeth’s actions in the latter parts of the play stem from a sort of madness that has consumed him. It is a madness that has grown from guilt over killing Duncan, to paranoia of getting caught, and most importantly, a constant need to protect what he has wrongfully acquired: the throne.
Macbeth’s actions are a result of his ambition to gain power and then maintain it by doing whatever he deems necessary. His actions are unmistakably driven by the fact that he wants to keep his place on the throne at any cost and eliminate all threats to him: “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 of 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” (IV, i, ll 165-170). Instead of being remorseful over his actions, he is much more worried that he himself will be retaliated against because of his dishonest deeds. This is obviously not the thought process of a noble mind, which clearly indicates that due to his consuming ambition Macbeth has lost, to some extent, his sanity.
Thus, through his actions alone, one can evidently see that Macbeth is headed on a path towards disaster; a path started, and forcefully driven, by his ambition. His ambition drives him to kill Duncan so that he can acquire the throne. His ambition then drives him to order the murders of Banquo and Fleance, and also those of the innocent Lady Macduff and her son, so that he may remove any threats towards him. Through that process alone, one could say that Macbeth’s ambition is his downfall because these are the events that lead to his alienation from the rest of humanity.
However, even more disastrous than the external consequences of his ambition are his internal consequences. Macbeth’s ambition is constantly putting him in a struggle between right and wrong. He finally loses this battle, and succumbs to the evil side of his ambition. Being the successful, proud, and noble warrior that he is, maybe this loss of what is good inside of him is truly the root of Macbeth’s insanity. One will never know, but it can be said that Macbeth’s ambition, whether through his actions or through his own internal aberration, did ultimately lead to his demise.
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