Fallout of Ambition in Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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About this sample


Words: 1194 |

Pages: 3|

6 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Words: 1194|Pages: 3|6 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Impact of Ambition on Macbeth
  3. Ambition in Lady Macbeth's Life
  4. Conclusion
  5. References


Ambition, defined as the fervent desire to achieve a goal or fulfill a task, is often regarded as a desirable trait, as it is commonly believed to drive productivity and enhance the quality of life. However, like all human traits, ambition must be balanced with rational thinking; otherwise, it can corrupt an individual's character. This consequence of an unbalanced ambition is thoroughly explored by the legendary poet and playwright, William Shakespeare, in his work "Macbeth." The play revolves around the character Macbeth's descent into malevolence as he succumbs to the primal desires associated with ambition, ultimately committing murder. Through his analysis of the effects of unchecked ambition on his dynamic protagonists, Shakespeare conveys the message that ambition, when divorced from a sense of morality, can lead to the degradation of one's character.

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The Impact of Ambition on Macbeth

Ambition's impact on the character of Macbeth is a prime example of how it can corrupt an individual's purity. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth receives three prophecies from three mysterious figures, the witches, one of which foretells his eventual kingship. These prophecies ignite ambition within Macbeth, driving him to pursue his supposed rightful throne by taking the life of his comrade, King Duncan. Although the actual murder is not explicitly described in the play, Macbeth's bold declaration, "I have done the deed," leaves no doubt about his actions. Unburdened by his moral compass, Macbeth's act of regicide illustrates how unbridled ambition can corrupt an individual. Initially torn by moral dilemmas, Macbeth ultimately succumbs to the desire for power and commits the murder of King Duncan. This nefarious act sets in motion a chain of further atrocities, such as ordering the assassination of his friend Banquo. It becomes evident that Macbeth's ambition has driven him to madness. In depicting these actions, Shakespeare offers a concrete, albeit fictional, illustration of the consequences of yielding to one's desires without consideration of the moral consequences—namely, the descent into madness.

Furthermore, Macbeth's shift in attitude is marked by an increasing inclination toward aggression and violence as a means to achieve his goals. No longer does he employ the calculating approach he exhibited at the beginning of the story, untainted by thoughts of murder and malevolence. Fearing Banquo's prophecies of rising to power, Macbeth orders two murderers to kill him, declaring, "It is concluded. Banquo, thy soul's flight, If it find heaven, must find it out to-night." This quote exemplifies the malevolence that has taken root in Macbeth's character following his exposure to the prophecy and his subsequent increase in ambition. His new persona, depicted as evil, stands in stark contrast to his earlier, docile, and benevolent self, indicating the corruption of his character in the absence of moral restraint. Macbeth's ambition results in the appearance of Banquo's ghost, a manifestation of his remorse and the culmination of the damage inflicted on his mental state solely by ambition. This example of moral corruption and character deterioration aligns with the central theme of the play: ambition, when unchecked by moral boundaries, leads to destruction. Macbeth's character transformation and moral decay illustrate this theme, as he transitions from a once-benevolent individual to a tyrannical ruler consumed by malevolence.

Ambition in Lady Macbeth's Life

Ambition plays a similar role in Lady Macbeth’s corruption of character and in her actions. Being the one to provoke and ignite Macbeth’s ambition to greater heights, causing him to murder his comrades and dearest of friends, ambition had a similar effect of corrupting the character of Lady Macbeth by implanting in her the desire to seize power. Intense desire is displayed in her lines, “Was the hope drunk Wherein you dress'd yourself? hath it slept since? And wakes it now, to look so green and pale At what it did so freely?”. Since Lady Macbeth alone is not able to seize power, she degrades and convinces Macbeth to commit his acts, which leads to his deterioration of character. Lady Macbeth’s diction, more specifically the informal tone and brevity of her lines, also implies a sense of urgency, which in itself indicates a strong desire and thus ambition. The implications of such ambition elucidates the overwhelmingly negative effects of ambition on one’s character by driving Lady Macbeth to her logical extremes in terms of rationality, especially given the lack of morals present in her character. Shakespeare’s overtone is tantamount to the theme of the play, which is that ambition is dangerous should there not be a moral compass. Lady Macbeth’s dialogue’s thematic significance lies in the ‘danger’, in this case being the implications of Macbeth’s actions through the influence of Lady Macbeth, an influence that exists solely due to the lack of morality from Lady Macbeth. This theme is further emphasized in Lady Macbeth’s devastating sense of guilt in later scenes, when she is sleepwalking, a phase in which she can be true to herself, fully allowing herself the freedom of expression, in which she states, “Here's the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!”.

Similar to Macbeth, Lady Macbeth’s ambition is elucidated in her guilt, as this indicates mental damage and regret over her actions, ones that she now deems unnecessary and unjustified, seeing the consequences of her own ambition. The consequence associated with ambition reflects the theme as it shows the destruction wrought by unchecked ambition, which in this scenario, is Lady Macbeth’s overwhelming guilt’s destruction of the psyche. It can thus be conclusively stated that ambition not only corrupted the character of Macbeth, but also that of his wife, Lady Macbeth, as evidenced by her burning intent to seize power by any means necessary and her subsequent descent to hysteria.


In conclusion, the theme of Macbeth that ambition brings danger and destruction in its wake once unhindered by moral constraints is elucidated through the effects ambition has on the protagonists of the story, from the transitions from normal and benevolent individuals to people driven by their desire to claim power by any means necessary, ultimately creating a sense of guilt within Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Although the play depicts ambition in a negative light, it would be irrational to assume that any form of ambition would be dangerous and destructive. Without the presence of such a trait, productivity in any environment would cease, as would any progression of society.

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Overall, as all traits should, ambition needs to find a balance with one’s moral compass in order to truly thrive, but without this balance, the plot presented in Macbeth would serve as an indication of what is to come.


  1. Shakespeare, W. (1623). Macbeth. First Folio. Retrieved from the Folger Shakespeare Library:
  2. Holland, P. (2002). The role of ambition in Macbeth. In M. Bloom (Ed.), Macbeth (Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations, pp. 49-61). Infobase Publishing.
  3. Wilson, R. (2011). Ambition in Shakespeare's Macbeth. In D. Scott (Ed.), Macbeth: New Critical Essays (pp. 135-154). Routledge.
  4. Bamber, L. (2005). "Unsex Me Here": Lady Macbeth's "Hell-Broth". Shakespeare Quarterly, 56(2), 135-158.
  5. Kirsch, A. (2014). The Role of Ambition in Macbeth: A Strategic Reading of Shakespeare's Corrupted Macbeth. TexTual Practice, 28(5), 931-949.
  6. Greenblatt, S. (2005). Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare. W. W. Norton & Company.
  7. Hadfield, A. (2010). Shakespeare and Renaissance Politics. Arden Shakespeare.
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Fallout Of Ambition In Macbeth By William Shakespeare. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from
“Fallout Of Ambition In Macbeth By William Shakespeare.” GradesFixer, 06 Aug. 2021,
Fallout Of Ambition In Macbeth By William Shakespeare. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 May 2024].
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