Ambition as One of Macbeth’s Tragic Flaws

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About this sample


Words: 1862 |

Pages: 4|

10 min read

Published: Mar 18, 2021

Words: 1862|Pages: 4|10 min read

Published: Mar 18, 2021

As the wise philosopher, Xun Kuang once said, “Human nature is evil, and goodness is caused by intentional activity.” This is perfectly exemplified in The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare. It thoroughly examines this perspective on humanity, displaying the lightness and darkness of people, along with the inevitable fate that accompanies our choices. Macbeth is a prime example of human nature because it demonstrates that while humanity is flawed, it’s the choices and actions that determine human inclination destiny. Macbeth’s tragic flaw, over-ambition, leads him to his ruthless and impulsive bloodshed and is the opposite of what humanity is meant to stand for, even if these desires are what resonated in his human heart. But where there is dark, there is also light. Macbeth’s darkness and corruption was contrasted by Banquo’s light, loyalty and his disciplined ambition. This proves that whilst they’re both flawed for being human, the choices they made ultimately conveyed their contrasting human natures.

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For instance, humans are flawed in their own unique ways, but these flaws are especially highlighted when they provoke a villainous human nature. Macbeth was the epitome of wickedness, which shows that his tragic flaw was the beginning of a chain reaction of events, leading to his fall. This can be seen when Macbeth was contemplating killing King Duncan for the prophecy, saying, “I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition”. Aristotle is said to have explained the three ways of leading to a tragic fall: a personality flaw, ignorance of the flaw and/or the consequences suffered because of the flaw. Here, Macbeth is recognizing that the only intent he has for murdering Duncan is ambition. He recognizes his over-ambition but ignores it, causing that to be his greatest motivation and only goal, which leads to his fall. The Three Witches, along with Hecate, are able to notice, expose and exploit this flaw themselves. Their symbolism as supernatural elements and evil are not noticed by Macbeth, causing him to be tricked, exposing his tragic flaw of being easily deceived. This is demonstrated when Hecate, the ruler of the witches, is planning to exploit Macbeth’s flaws to push him towards self-destruction. “He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear / His hopes ‘bove wisdom, grace, and fear. / And you all know security / Is mortals’ chiefest enemy”.

Throughout the play, Macbeth was deceived a plethora of times by characters ranging from Lady Macbeth to the witches. This fatal fault leads him into being tricked by the witches’ apparitions, giving him a false sense of security in thinking he’s undefeatable. The witches told him that he would only be defeated when Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane and that no one born from a woman can kill him. Even when he realizes that these are only half-truths and he’s been deceived, he still fights, resulting in his death. However, Macbeth is not the only character with flaws, as portrayed by this play. Lady Macbeth is also hungry for power, leading to greed, and ends with her own guilt catching up to her, resulting in suicide. An example of this can be seen when Lady Macbeth received Macbeth’s letter and she became anxious to see Macbeth crowned, but thinks he won’t take the necessary steps to do so. She states, “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 crowned withal”.

Lady Macbeth is convinced that Macbeth will become king and because of her greed, she wants to persuade him into making the correct choices to get there that will benefit her the most. She did not think of the consequences or immorality of said actions. This drives her into a state of insane guilt proceeded by suicide. She’s also the one responsible for Macbeth’s descent into madness and bloodshed when he was originally cautious to do so. Her fault negatively impacted others creating consequences suffered because of it. Therefore, her tragic flaw is explained perfectly by Aristotle, as said prior in this piece. Finally, it makes sense that the murderers of this play have flaws, but so does everyone. Such as shown in even the royal King Duncan, who’s flaw of being too trustworthy of others creates an opportunity for the Thanes of Cawdor to betray him. For example, when King Duncan mentions the betrayal of the old Thane of Cawdor, he says “There’s no art / To find the mind’s construction in the face / He was a gentleman on whom I built / An absolute trust”. The implication here is that you cannot tell the aspirations of one person through their face, as Duncan completely trusted the Thane and was unable to predict his disloyalty and treason beforehand. No one can tell what’s going on in one’s mind. It is unfortunate that Duncan didn’t take his own advice, because when he appointed Macbeth as the new Thane of Cawdor and trusted him enough to sleep over at his castle, he was in return treacherously murdered by Macbeth. This situational irony is not the first example of disloyalty in the play, as it also happens to Macbeth himself when his own army turns on him at Birnam Wood. In conclusion, Macbeth’s corrupted rise to power as well as all of the characters who he encountered in his way proves to modern society that all of humanity is flawed, in one way or another.

In addition to flaws impacting humans greatly, it is shown through the very dynamic characters such as Macbeth that their actions, choices, and free will that decide their fate, and in turn, human nature. Macbeth and his best friend Banquo perfectly embody the distinctive fates that their actions led them towards. They were both exposed to the witches’ prophecies, but their choices after this encounter sparked and fueled divergent solutions. When Macbeth starts to fear that Banquo will discover his dark methods, he says, “Our fears in Banquo stick deep / And in his royalty of nature reigns that which would be feared.” They were both good men who were met with the neutral words of the Weird Sisters, but it was the moral value that they put into those words that set them apart. Banquo was cautious and even suspected Macbeth’s “foul play” in light of recent events, but he never let his ambition cross his conscience. He’s the light contrasting Macbeth’s dark, and even when he did no wrong, Macbeth’s actions fueled by his over-ambition interfered with his ability to properly see reality, causing him to turn on his best friend and murder him. The torch Banquo held as he was dying represented his light, and when he died, that torch went out with him. Still, this unnecessary action did not change Banquo’s prophecy of his kin taking the throne, displaying the irrationality in Macbeth’s decision making. But Macbeth’s actions did not only affect Banquo but others as well, such as Macduff. Once he was corrupted with greed, his free will shows how he disregarded all morals for power. Such an act was when Macbeth murders Macduff’s family, then later meets him on the battlefield, stating “Of all men else I have avoided thee / But get thee back; my soul is too much charged / With blood of thine already.”

Macbeth was filled with too much guilt to shed any more blood from Macduff. This encounter, along with the whole battle of Dunsinane, is the indirect result of his actions. Malcolm has sought out battle in order to avenge his father and reclaim the throne that Macbeth has unlawfully taken. Macduff, on the other hand, sought out vengeance for the inhumane murder of his family. Macbeth also recklessly killed the servants early on, proving that his choices had created these repercussions, in result leads to his tragic fall. Of course, Macbeth’s actions were not the only impactful ones. Lady Macbeth’s hunger for power also crippled her judgment, resulting in making unethical decisions that heavily impacted humanity in the play. This is proven when Lady Macbeth receives Macbeth’s letter concerning the witches, saying “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be / What thou art promised. / Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness.” From the beginning, it is clear that Lady Macbeth holds more authority over the throne, even if it’s not what it appears to the public. She’s the one guiding Macbeth on his path of self-destruction. Here, we see that she thinks he’s too kind to commit to the right opportunities to get there and plans to influence him to get what she wants, power. She forcefully urges him into killing Duncan, without any sympathy or guilt as a result. This, in turn, made her the result of the overabundance of bloodshed, which consequently killed many, as well as herself and Macbeth. She altered Macbeth into insanity and madness, over-ambition, which could’ve all been avoided or peacefully handled, but it was their fate after all.

Finally, it’s the witches who conclusively heavily influenced Macbeth’s actions as well as the play as a whole. When Banquo’s talking to Macbeth after their encounter with said witches, he says “Good sir, why do you start, and seem to fear / Things that do sound so fair?”. The Three Witches also indirectly controlled Macbeth’s actions throughout the play with deception. When Banquo says this, it’s dramatically ironic since the audience knows that in fact, the witches’ prophecies aren’t fair and instead very foul. Specifically, when the witches planted the idea of King in his head, it sparked an ambition inside of him which was destined to fail. Then, using the half-truths with Burnam Wood and people born of woman, they made him feel that he was immortal, which was an appearance that made him miss the reality of the situation, that no man is immortal. These acts of deception and evil directly show the grave efforts that were made that concluded in the corrupted human nature found in this play.

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“What’s done cannot be undone”. The atrocious acts committed in Macbeth illustrate the powerful meaning of tragic flaws, but that its individual acts made that truly show us the good and evil contrast of humanity. The evil that inhabits Macbeth and Lady Macbeth cannot be undone. It ended up being fueled so greatly that it abolished them both, taking down others in the process. This goes to show that human nature cannot endure evil and these underlying messages are still relevant in modern society. They teach the world to keep their flaws in check and to make thoughtful decisions, considering all the consequences and effects. This is why Macbeth is critical, as it uses satire, drawing attention to supernatural elements and demolishing order which was not as common back then. It uses light and darkness, good and evil, clarity and obscurity, to show that there must always be a balance, to find peace. That is how Macbeth highlights and symbolizes humanity.

Works Cited

  1. Shakespeare, W. (1992). The Tragedy of Macbeth. The Norton Shakespeare, 1st Edition. W. W. Norton & Company.
  2. Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2010). Macbeth. Infobase Publishing.
  3. Campbell, O. J. (1955). Macbeth and the Metaphysic of Evil. In Joseph Quincy Adams Memorial Studies (pp. 24-41). University of California Press.
  4. Johnson, C. (1997). Macbeth: History, Ideology, and Intellectuals. Shakespeare Quarterly, 48(4), 383-396.
  5. Kastan, D. S. (Ed.). (2002). Macbeth: Critical essays. Routledge.
  6. Knight, G. W. (2015). Macbeth. Cambridge University Press.
  7. Stoll, E. E. (1933). Shakespeare's Religions (Vol. 1). AMS Press.
  8. Steiner, G. (2009). Shakespeare and the Idea of Tragedy. Oxford University Press.
  9. Tolliver, J. A. (1992). Shakespeare and Tragic Virtue. The University of North Carolina Press.
  10. Wells, S., & Orlin, L. (Eds.). (2014). Shakespeare: An Oxford Guide. Oxford University Press.
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Ambition As One Of Macbeth’s Tragic Flaws. (2021, March 18). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 17, 2024, from
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