‘Thriftless ambition that will ravin up, Thine own life’s means.’1
Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth shows the destructive power of uncontrolled ambition and power on a man. Burning ambition and later, uncontrolled power leads to the downfall of all Macbeth’s ‘life’s means’, that is religion, sanity and a good national relationship.
In the 17th century, religion was the lifeblood of all men; it bonded all people – from peasants to Kings under a central belief. Through the act of regicide, Macbeth essentially cuts himself off from God, which destroys a vital part of what Macbeth is as a man. After killing Duncan, Macbeth is unable to ask for forgiveness, he ‘could not say amen’ when he was in ‘most need of blessing’. The ‘sacrilegious murder’ of a King makes Macbeth realise that he has committed an unforgivable sin. This leads him to believe that he has been cursed as he hears a voice say ‘sleep no more,’ ‘the innocent sleep’. As a result of this Macbeth believes God has abandoned him and this destroys his religious destiny, a core part of his being.
Burning ambition and a lust for power drive Macbeth insane and this is linked to his eventual demise. As Macbeth’s guilt and paranoia set in, the audience soon realises that Macbeth - once a noble and mighty warrior, is not fit to rule. Although he now appears to have all he desires, he still ‘dwells in doubtful joy’, not satisfied with merely being monarch Macbeth despises having been given a ‘fruitless crown’ and ‘barren sceptre’ – he believes his children must be monarchs as well. This constant struggle to remain on the throne causes Macbeth to become paranoid, he sets spies upon the other Thanes and refuses to sleep - terrified that he will be killed as Duncan was. This constant inner turmoil, combined with the pressures of being a monarch eventually become too much for Macbeth to handle and he drives himself insane.
Macbeth’s uncontained ambition and absolute power