Ambitions & Desires – Macbeth
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Ambition and desire in itself are not bad traits, it is only when released from moral constraints that they can wreak havoc. These traits, which have been freed from any sense of morality and principles are explored through Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth. Shakespeare developed Macbeth as a noble character who gives in to the cravings of power and superiority over others, and not only goes on a murdering rampage, but drags his morally corrupt wife with him, ultimately signing away their lives.
Macbeth, after hearing the prophecies the three witches gave him, becomes conflicted within himself, ‘If chance shall have me King, why, chance may crown me, without my stir’. Ultimately, Macbeth chooses ambition over morality, but not without pressure from his wife ‘Are you a man?’ and severe inner turmoil ‘My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical’. To contrast the devious character of Macbeth, Shakespeare included Banquo, a fellow noblemen and Macbeth’s closest friend, to act as Macbeths foil. He immediately chooses morality over ambition without question and forewarns Macbeth of the Weird Sisters and their ability to twist the truth: ‘instruments of darkness tell us truths, win us with honest trifles, to betray’s in deepest consequence’. Banquo’s undying allegiance to King Duncan demonstrations the difference between Macbeth and Banquo, and how the upkeep of morals keep us in check. After choosing power, Macbeth’s suspicion of Banquo and his role in the prophecy leads to Banquo’s murder.
After killing his friend, Macbeth is plagued with guilt, and hallucinations become recurrent for both Macbeth; ‘our graves must send those we bury back’ and his wife; ‘will these hands ne’er be clean?’ This shows that ambition can lead to immoral acts when overcome by desire. Lady Macbeth plays a key role in Macbeth’s downfall, as she is the driving force that convinces Macbeth that his motives are deemed excusable as long as they meet the end goal. Lady Macbeth is a ruthless woman who believes her husband is a weak man, ‘too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness’ and believes she thinks like a man because of her power hungry thoughts; ‘unsex me here, and fill me, from crown to the toe, top-full of direst cruelty!’ Her lack of morality is shown in frequent outbursts and displays her absence of emotion and evil intent; ‘Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums, and dashed the brains out’.
Macbeth and his wife’s attitudes towards Duncan’s murder are vastly different, and it in them equally different effects. He is conscience of what he has done, and is remorseful ‘will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand?’ but Macbeth’s guilt subsides and develops a belief that he is invincible which is further cemented by the witches second set of prophecies. However, Lady Macbeth, who at first mocked he husbands feebleness at the act of killing another person ‘a little water clears us of this deed.’ becomes plagued by hallucinations and sleepwalking. Duncan’s murder is the breaking point for Macbeth, after which he has lost all sense of morals. He becomes more and more confident and morally corrupt and
Under Macbeths rule, Scotland crumbles and families and nobles are fleeing in terror. Macbeth, whose morals have remained unconstrained, has made a dramatic change from the meek and feeble man, whose thought of murder repulsed him, to slaying any man, woman, or child who dares cross him.
Ambition only becomes a bad trait when released from morality and the desire for power consumes everything. Shakespeare explores this and creates an intricate web of lies and deceit between his characters.