Betrayal in Macbeth: Greed's Tragic Grip

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 842 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Words: 842|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Aug 31, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Macbeth's Peripeteia: Greed and Betrayal
  3. Consequences of Macbeth's Ambition
  4. Conclusion
  5. Works Cited


‘Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell/ That summons thee to heaven or to hell,’ Macbeth bitterly exclaims, the tolling of the bells both foreshadowing and signifying Macbeth’s murderous betrayal in Macbeth. This scene was the decisive moment of peripeteia for Macbeth, where his greed overcomes his loyalty. Following the conventions of Greek tragedy, Shakespearean protagonists have hamartia - that is, a fatal flaw that results in the tragedy of their plays, such as Romeo’s recklessness and Hamlet’s indecisiveness. Macbeth’s hamartia is clearly his greed. He even admits it himself in his soliloquy in Act 1 Scene 7, where he explains that it is only his ‘vaulting ambition’ which has prompted him to murder his king that he was so loyal to, and nothing else. Therefore, this very theme of greed continues to motivate and dictate Macbeth’s behaviour.

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Macbeth's Peripeteia: Greed and Betrayal

Shakespeare’s Macbeth reflects a time in history where greed and corruption was prevalent, with royalty resorting to violence and betrayal to secure their power. More specifically, during a time of great political turmoil when Queen Elizabeth I had refused to name a successor to the throne until just before her death. Shakespeare emphasises this through Macbeth’s gruesome and murderous acts as his greed overcomes his morals, depicted through when he kills Banquo by hiring two murderers and inviting him to a feast. He even orders for his son, Fleance, to be killed. What can we take away from this? Although in our society politicians may not murder each other for power as the 16th century royalty may have done, the greed and corruption within Macbeth can also be demonstrated through them. Thus, Shakespeare is trying to convey that it is human nature to succumb into temptation and greed.

Why is the theme of greed relevant to us? We may not be aware of it, but humans are naturally greedy. Politicians are easy examples of this as they share a strong desire for power and wealth. Their decisions are often motivated by greed rather than what is ultimately the better for the majority. The recent record-breaking bushfires in Australia outlines this as these fires were a result of climate change, a globally recognised issue that politicians avoid. So why do they avoid climate change? The answer is simply greed. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions would require the reduction of coal production which would as a result, negatively impact the economy which primarily relies on the exporting of natural resources. The use of coal for energy is also a lot cheaper opposed to other forms of renewable energy. Australian politicians even shift the blame away from climate change to protect themselves. Overall, they are not willing to sacrifice economic gain for social and environmental causes, showcasing pure greed.

Consequences of Macbeth's Ambition

What else can we say Macbeth wanted? Macbeth may have wanted to establish himself in history. However, his ‘vaulting ambition’ ultimately led to his misery and downfall as he was never satisfied, even when he became king. Macbeth’s concern for holding the throne created a distorted view of reality as he was not able to experience the lavish life of a king, but instead had to struggle to maintain his power. After Lady Macbeth’s death, Macbeth reveals his grief and acknowledges that everything he had done was futile. The quote ‘it is a tale/told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, /signifying nothing.’ depicts this as Macbeth compares his life to a story filled with action and emotion but in the end, holds no meaning. This sense of sudden regret delineates Shakespeare’s message of warning others to not succumb to greed and temptation. It is too late for Macbeth once he realises this as Macduff and his army arrive at his castle. Macduff, being born through caesarean section, is the only one that can harm Macbeth, according to the witches’ prophecy and decapitates Macbeth.

How different could have things been if Macbeth wasn’t greedy? If Macbeth did not kill King Duncan, he would still become king, as the witches prophesised, but by other events not motivated by his greed or ambition. King Duncan and his son, Malcolm, would have died leaving the throne open to Macbeth. Overall, the story would be a lot happier without Macbeth’s ‘vaulting ambition’, arguably sparked by Lady Macbeth who convinces him to kill King Duncan. Macbeth was even aware that it was immoral to kill the king, but his ambition overwhelmed his morals. Similarly, in modern times, society would be vastly different if world leaders were not motivated by greed. Australia for example wouldn’t have experienced as deadly bushfires if politicians weren’t greedy, resulting in a much safer outcome for Australians.

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Macbeth is a timeless story of a man corrupted by greed whose actions ultimately cost others’ and eventually, his own life. Shakespeare, however, warns everyone who watches the play, not just those in power, to be careful of their own ‘vaulting ambition’ and in trying to achieve their goal, not harm others.   

Works Cited

  1. Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger Shakespeare Library, 2011.
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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Betrayal in Macbeth: Greed’s Tragic Grip. (2023, August 31). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 26, 2024, from
“Betrayal in Macbeth: Greed’s Tragic Grip.” GradesFixer, 31 Aug. 2023,
Betrayal in Macbeth: Greed’s Tragic Grip. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 Feb. 2024].
Betrayal in Macbeth: Greed’s Tragic Grip [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Aug 31 [cited 2024 Feb 26]. Available from:
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