The Tragedy of Ambition in Macbeth
Shakespeare's tragic play, Macbeth, shares common themes with many other stories and actual events. Many scandals, both historic and current, can be linked to greed, ambition, and abuse of power. Typically, the key figures are motivated by, and are inevitably destroyed by, ambition. This is also the case in Macbeth, where ambition leads to the downfall of the once great character, Macbeth.
William Shakespeare's tragedy, Macbeth, is a play about a man's ambition to become king. Since the first part of the witches' prophecy, "All hail Macbeth! Thane of Glamis"(I.i.52-53)! was already a fact, and the second part was fulfilled almost as soon as the witches pronounced it, "All hail Macbeth! Thane of Cawdor"(I.i.54-55), Macbeth begins to think the part, "All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be King, / hereafter"(I.i.56-57)! might also come true because, "supernatural soliciting cannot be ill, cannot be good" (I.i.151-152). Encouraged by his wife, Lady Macbeth, Macbeth murders King Duncan while he is a guest in Macbeth's castle. As a result, Macbeth becomes king of Scotland.
According to his critical essay on Macbeth, "Shakespeare and the Hazards of Ambition," Robert N. Watson comments asserts that ambition becomes the enemy of all life, especially that of the ambitious man himself, in this play (Watson 31). Shakespeare puts on displays a man's lifelong aspiration that seems to be fulfilled, but at the cost of his mental and emotional well-being. Macbeth's desire to gain wealth and status completely overpowers him, reducing him to something less than human. Macbeth becomes ever more ambitious as his wife goads him and the witches tease him with more prophecies.
In Act I, Scene iii, the witches and their prophecies influence Macbeth's ambition as he considers murdering Duncan, " If good, why do I yield to that suggestion/ whose horrid image doth unfix my hair/ and make my seated heart knock at my ribs, / against the use of nature" (155-158)? Macbeth strongly believes the witches' words. Also, the apparitions who are called by the witches influence Macbeth by making him believe that he is invincible, "rebellion's head, rise never, till the wood/ of Birnam rise, and our high- placed Macbeth/ shall live the lease of nature, pay his breath/ to time, and mortal custom"(I.iii.112-115).
Lady Macbeth also influences Macbeth's ambition,"Hie thee hither, / that I may pour my spirits in thine ear, / and chastise with the valour of my tongue/ all that impedes thee from the golden round, / which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem/ to have thee crown'd withal" (I.v.26-31). Lady Macbeth tries to influence him to kill Duncan. She says, "Art not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it (I.v.19-20) meaning that Macbeth is not without ambition, but he lacks the ruthlessness that is needed to murder Duncan.