The Significance of Moral Ambiguity in William Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Macbeth
The Tragedy of Macbeth is a fictional play written by English poet William Shakespeare. The play is set in eleventh century Scotland, during the reign of King James the first. Shakespeare evidently writes in this time period to describe the link between leaders and their supreme or ultimate power. The play was first performed in the year 1606, at the world famous Globe Theatre, and is considered one of the most profound and compelling tragedies ever told. The Tragedy of Macbeth tells the tale of a brave Scottish general named Macbeth and his ambitious desire to become king of Scotland. While he and another commander named Banquo return home from war they stumble into three hagged looking witches. The witches offer the men an enticing prophecy that leads to a more pivotal role found later in the play. Throughout the play Macbeth is seen confronting his own moral ambiguity to the heinous acts he must perform to get the position he most desires. “My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, [s]hakes so my single state of man” (Shakespeare 1.3.152-53). This uncertainty, present in the scenes of Duncan’s murder, the feast, and the witch’s final predictions each unfold the ambiguity needed to understand the basis of the work as a whole.
After the first prediction comes true the reader starts to see a difference in Macbeth’s entire attitude. Throughout the beginning of the play Macbeth is seen as a valiant and great nobleman, however, when Macbeth receives news that there is a chance for him to rise to great power he conspires to murder the current king to gain the throne. Although the thought of killing Duncan at first is subtle, it grows into a more blood thirsty motive for power. Macbeth then ponders over why he should not go on with the murder, “He’s here in double trust: First as I am his kinsman and his subject” (1.7.12-13). Duncan has never done anything to cross Macbeth; he was kind and even tried to promote Macbeth to a higher status. Deep down Macbeth genuinely does believe that Duncan is a humble and honorable leader. The only reason for going on with the murder is “To prick the sides of [his] intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’ other” (1.7.26-28). The play then goes on to explain the effect of evil when it is chosen to fulfill ambition. The reader tends to have a different view of Macbeth at this point because of his corrupted mind.
Succeeding Duncan’s death, Macbeth gains title as the king of Scotland as well as thane of Cawdor. To celebrate all of his success Macbeth and Lady Macbeth decide to throw a banquet in his honor. Macbeth invites the lords as well as his good friend Banquo to feast at Inverness. Yet the prophecy that Banquo’s ancestral grandchildren shall inherit the throne still intimidates him. Macbeth decides to hire...