In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare highlights the powerful influence of desire on a man’s mind. Macbeth is initially a pure and honorable man, but he dies a disgraceful murderer. Macbeth’s transformation is entirely due to his overpowering ambition, and the greed it stirs within him. The witches’ prophesy dooms Macbeth because it appeals to his hunger for power and therefore consumes his mind. Macbeth cannot escape the prophecy because he desperately wishes for it to be a true, and this dooms him to disaster. Macbeth’s desire for power causes him to go to extraordinary and evil lengths to obtain it. When the witches’ prophesize that Macbeth will be thane, Macbeth is overwhelmed by the idea that he can obtain power. Macbeth feels threatened by Macduff and decides to put an end to his concern by ordering, “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” (4.2.150-153). Macbeth kills Macduff at this point in the story because it is the only certain way to eliminate the greatest threat to his power. At this point, Macbeth is so desperate for power that he is willing to kill even women and babies, who are perceived to be the innocents of society. Macbeth is not only willing to go to extraordinary lengths for power physically, but also psychologically. Macbeth’s imagination is the only world in which he is who he aspires to be. Because Macbeth is hungry for power, he lends too much credence to this imaginary world. Before Macbeth kills Duncan he is faced with a very powerful hallucination, “Is this a dagger which I see before me,/The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee./I have thee not, and yet I see thee still” (2.1.33-35). Because Macbeth realizes that the only place he holds power is in his imagination, he must transition his imaginary paradise into reality. In the end of this scene, Macbeth concludes that the dagger, which gives him all the power he needs to take the kingship, is merely a figment of his imagination. Macbeth kills Duncan immediately after this scene because he realizes that it is not enough to imagine killing Duncan: he must bring the murder out into the real world in order to have the level of power he craves in reality.
Macbeth transforms, causing him to go to great physical and psychological lengths to obtain power so that, by the end of the play, he is a completely different person. Macbeth’s entrapment in his imagination disables him from clearly distinguishing between imagination and reality, causing him to become someone else entirely: the man he is in his dreams. Macbeth knows his values and the difference between right and wrong. When Duncan comes to stay with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, Macbeth begins to dread the murder. He says, “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” (1.7.12-16). Macbeth knows that it is wrong to kill Duncan, but his greed, ambition, and hunger for power lead him to disregard his values. By the end of the story, Macbeth is a traitor, a murderer, and an abuser of power. Macduff kills him for his evil actions. As Macduff parades in front of Scotland, carrying Macbeth’s severed head high, Scotland cheers. In the closing scene, Malcolm addresses Scotland referring to Macbeth and Lady Macbeth as, “This dead butcher and his fiendlike queen.” In the beginning of the play, Macbeth is honored for his strength and nobility as a war hero. But in the end of the play, he is murdered for being a traitor to Scotland.
Macbeth’s transformation from pure to evil demonstrates the power a man’s desire holds over his mind. Macbeth is turned evil by a series of actions that transpire as the direct result of his needlessly strong ambition. Thus, individuals should strive to manage their strongest desires, because it is the strongest desires that trigger a man’s ambition to drive him to insanity. Human beings are social creatures and are naturally designed to coexist and collaborate. This makes it unhealthy and ultimately unstable for one human being to hold total power. Striving to obtain something so far out of one’s reach dooms him to disaster.