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Ambition: the Rise an Decline in Macbeth

By gkemmey Oct 30, 2008 1330 Words
Ambition: The Rise and Decline in Macbeth

Many people, both young and old, strive to rise higher in their caste system. Many teenagers aspire to go to college, and many working people aspire to be promoted. Ambitions drive these individuals to reach their goals. Ambition drives an individual to reach their goals with a powerful force, but ambition can also cause the demise of the individual. In Shakespeare’s renaissance play, Macbeth, William Shakespeare uses the character Macbeth to show case the destruction wrought about by ambition when moral values do not counter-balance the powerful force, and the way corrupt ambition reverts man to a primitive state, and leads to his eventual demise.

Ambition can drive the individual into such a corrupt state that the only rules are what a man can and cannot do to achieve his goals. In act I scene vii Macbeth speaks in the form of a soliloquy where he contemplates murdering Duncan. However, towards the end of Macbeth’s soliloquy Macbeth acknowledges that his only motive for murdering Duncan lies in his own ambitious nature saying, “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition…” (I.vii. 25-7) When Macbeth lists Duncan’s noble qualities, and the loyalty that he feels toward his king, Shakespeare reminds the reader just how grievous and outrageous the couple’s decision to slaughter their ruler while he sleeps in their home become. This soliloquy reveals that Macbeth has no reason for killing Duncan other than to appeal to his own corrupt ambition. Once Macduff and Lennox enter Macbeth seems to loose his nerve. Macbeth’s conversation with Lennox reveals the troubles clouding Macbeth’s mind concerning the impending discovery of Duncan’s body. For example, when Lennox converses about the weather Macbeth’s only response consists of, “’Twas a rough night.” (II.iii.57) Furthermore, when Lennox asks, “Goes the King hence today?” Macbeth almost gives away his knowledge of the king’s death. (II.iii.49) However, after these mistakes Macbeth swiftly slips back into character. For a minute the audience becomes unsure whether Macbeth can do what he needs to do to keep become king, and more importantly, keep his head. Here the audience sees a glimpse of Macbeth as he changes and corrupts due to his driving ambition. Ambition and its defining, corrupting powers are prevalent in Macbeth from Macbeth’s coronation to his death; Macbeth’s ambition caused his demise.

Shakespeare also introduces and idea of androgynous ambition, and androgyny in cruelty and violence. In act I Macbeth battles internally on whether to murder Duncan or not. Lady Macbeth, who has decided to murder the king and assume the title of queen, encourages Macbeth to do the same. However, Lady Macbeth’s embarrassment at her husband’s weakness does not inspire her to be a kind woman. While Lady Macbeth waits for Duncan to arrive at her castle she says, calling upon the heavens, “…Unsex me here…and take my milk for gall…” (I.v.48-55) The language suggests that her womanhood, represented by her breasts and milk, symbols of nurture, impedes her from performing acts of violence and cruelty, which she associates with manliness. However, Shakespeare uses this to show the androgyny that lies in ambition; its power not only resides in men, but in women as well. Even though Lady Macbeth decides to commit murder, Macbeth still hesitates about murdering Duncan. This angers Lady Macbeth and she becomes short of temper, and wishes she could do the job herself. Additionally, when Macbeth starts becoming hesitant towards the idea of murdering Duncan Lady Macbeth insults him and drives him to do what needs to be done by challenging his masculinity (I.vii.49), a technique later employed by Macbeth when he converses with the murders. Using both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth Shakespeare shows that ambition, violence, and cruelty pertain to both men and women. He uses Lady Macbeth as a driving force for Macbeth, showing a feminine side to what Shakespeare’s audience would have considered a characteristic of masculinity. Shakespeare’s portrays men and women on the same level; equal in several aspects. In fact, in Macbeth Lady Macbeth acts the most corrupt, vile, and wicked character in the play, initiating all that Macbeth started.

Corrupt ambition leads an individual on a path that ends, in inevitably, destruction. A man can either become so overcome with guilt and turmoil that he can no longer physically go on, or the individual who wields corrupt ambition will eventually be destroyed by one who wields a moral ambition, and who accomplishes their goals without the use of sinful and vile acts. Each murder of Macbeth’s accompanies some sort of hallucination, initiated by his guilt. In act I Macbeth enters Banquo’s quarters to converse about the witches. Afterwards, Macbeth plans to whisk into Duncan’s chamber and murder him while he sleeps. Before he murders Duncan Macbeth sees a floating dagger and he cries out, “Is this a dagger which I see before me…” (II.i.44) This floating dagger serves to show that Macbeth cannot keep his nerves in control. It also reveals his guilt he feels for two reasons, one the lies he told his friend inspire guilty emotions, and second, he feels guilty about the plans that he puts into action. One death leads to another and Macbeth begins to make deals with assassins. Macbeth views Banquo and his son Fleance as a threat to his crown, and decides to eradicate the threat. Then after he murders Banquo Macbeth sees the ghost of Banquo in his seat, and horror-struck Macbeth begins to converse with it in front of his court. Afterwards he recovers and tells his company that, “I have a strange infirmity which is nothing to those that know me.” (III.iv.85-86) These hallucinations show that even Macbeth’s guilt catches up with him. This guilt, all though eventually mastered by Macbeth, throws him out of character and makes it harder for him to act as though he has a clean conscience. If Macbeth cannot convince his subjects of his worthiness to be king then not only will he loose the thrown, but his life as well. Eventually matters escalate beyond Macbeth’s control. More threats have risen, namely Malcolm and Macduff, and Macbeth and his crown are in danger. Towards the end Malcolm and Macduff return to Dunsinane with the English army, and declare siege against Macbeth and his castle. Here, Macduff eventually kills Macbeth. Macbeth, clinging to the witches’ prophecy “that none of woman born shall harm him” (IV.i.96-7) as a last hope, fights for his crown at Dunsinane. Macduff decapitates Macbeth during their duel. (V.viii.1-39) Macduff who had reached his goals without acts of villainy, and who fed his ambitions with moral standards, destroys Macbeth who had been only able to push aside his conscience and move forward disregarding his acts of villainy. Macduff, whose only aspiration was to see his country restored to its former glory conquers Macbeth, who selfishly fought and killed for his own corrupt and wicked purposes. Rather than helping a ruler to maintain his power corruption only inspires others to commit acts of violence in order to serve justice. If no one opposes a corrupt ruler than their own guilt can just as swiftly bring about their destruction. The power of leadership can easily cause corruption in the strongest of men. However, acts of villainy for the sake of political, or any type of, gain will result in the eventual demise of the leader. Corruption and wicked deeds inspire guilt within the human soul. Villainy always accompanies opposition from good-doers. The raw power of a man’s ambition can cause much good and help an individual rise to wherever they aspire to. However, when used in acts of villainy, demise soon will follow.

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