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How Ambition Drives Macbeth into Downfall in Shakespeare’s Play

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Words: 981 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Nov 8, 2021

Words: 981|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Nov 8, 2021

Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’ was written in 1606 and explores the ways in which raging ambition inevitably leads to the dispositional and emotional downfall of a person. He cleverly crafted the play to be a parallel of the gunpowder plot in 1605, where Guy Fawkes planned a failed assassination against King James. Many of the ‘Macbeth’ themes resonate with the attempted revolt: it’s a play about treason, the overthrow of a king and the downfall of its murderers. He specifically uses the character of Macbeth to criticise Guy Fawkes, as Macbeth also breaks his own Chain of Being when he commits regicide and successfully destroys the Divine Right of Kings, which was an ancient idea claiming that Kings had been chosen by God and were his representatives on Earth. Throughout the play, Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a fuel for Macbeth’s treasonous actions as her ambition drives him into his downfall, and into the nemesis of King Duncan. Although Macbeth is quite reluctant to commit regicide, Lady Macbeth’s fiery ambition ignites him to do so through her use of manipulation and irrationality.

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In the extract, Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth to be challenging Macbeth’s personality, as she knows he is lawful and obedient to Duncan, and she sees him as too weak to murder him. As readers, we begin to question her interpretation of Macbeth, and this reflects Lady Macbeths own corrupt thoughts. She argues that Macbeth is ‘too full of the milk of human kindness’ and that she ‘fears thy nature’. The use of the superlative ‘too’ suggests that Lady Macbeth perceives Macbeth as inferior because his qualities do not fit that of a regular person. This shows how Macbeth does not have the same level of ambition as Lady Macbeth – she is much more ambitious for the death of Duncan than he is. Also, the noun ‘kindness’ reflects how Macbeth is not evil enough to commit the huge sin of regicide, yet he still does at the end of the novel. This highlights how Lady Macbeth is able to completely alter Macbeth’s character, depicting how her ambition has had a pejorative influence of Macbeth. Shakespeare could be trying to warn the readers of the dangers that ambition will inevitably inflict on those who possess it, as well as those around them. He highlights how ambition leads to a disruption in morality, and how it’s the diving force for irrationality. The audience of ‘Macbeth’ during the Jacobean era would feel particularly curious towards Lady Macbeth’s attitude, as women were supposed to be generally very calm, and not so heated with passion. Often, they would be women that calm their husbands, however, in this case, Macbeth seems to be the more serene character.

Furthermore, Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth’s burning ambition to become the Queen through her demonic remarks in the extract: ‘That I may pour my spirits in thine ear’. The noun ‘spirits’ has connotations with ghosts, demons and possession, which reinforces the idea that she is willing to transgress against God in order to fulfill her desires. This not only presents Lady Macbeth as ruthless, but it also highlights how her ambitions have drained her morals and her integrity. In addition, the verb ‘pour’ perhaps depicts how Lady Macbeth is willing to continuously and consistently sin against God and disobey her king. Shakespeare could have included supernatural imagery here to please his king, James I, who became utterly convinced about the reality of demons and soon developed a fascination for them that he published a study of demons, called ‘Daemonologie’.

In Act one Scene seven, Shakespeare portrays Lady Macbeth as ambitious when she destroys her femininity. She challenges Macbeth’s masculinity when he proceeds to “go no further” with the plan to kill Duncan, by establishing her irrational and violent attitude towards motherhood: “I’d have plucked my nipple from its boneless gums and dash’d the brains out”. Here, Lady Macbeth is showing Macbeth the extent of her sacrifice to become the Queen in order to criticise his lacking desire to become the King. She is prepared to give up the gift of her own baby’s life in order to fulfill her desire. Shakespeare cleverly uses violent verbs like ‘plucked’ and ‘dash’d’ to perhaps be reflective of Lady Macbeth’s highly emotive qualities, as well as her tortured thoughts which are both driven by her flaming ambition. The use of visceral imagery would of made a Jacobean audience feel uncomfortable and oddly fear a woman who was supposed to be very maternal in that era.

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Throughout the rest of the play, Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as ambitious to a certain extent, because her desire to become the Queen has ignited more power in her than ambition. Shakespeare presents this idea through the structure of her dialogue. Lady Macbeth speaks in iambic pentameter, which is a sophisticated metric that reflects the higher classes in Macbeth. After Duncan’s murder, Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth to ‘wash this filthy witness from your hands’. Here, the iambic pentameter form is used which immediately shows Lady Macbeth as powerful – she is given a more complex and intelligent form of speech, which is perhaps reflective of her authoritative, systematic tactics when manipulating Macbeth to do as she pleases. She may also have been given this developed form of dialogue to highlight her nobility and power in society- she is now the wife of a thane. This would be particularly discomforting for the audience of ‘Macbeth’ as they know that power is given to a corrupt and selfish Queen. In addition, Lady Macbeth’s power towards Macbeth is highlighted through Shakespeare’s use of the imperative verb ‘wash’. Here, Lady Macbeth is presented as very controlling over her husband, which juxtaposes Macbeth’s freedom of choice in Act 1 when he tells her ‘we’ll speak later’. Shakespeare could perhaps be hinting how power is more dangerous than ambition when it comes to completely destroying a person’s liberty.   

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How Ambition Drives Macbeth Into Downfall In Shakespeare’s Play. (2021, November 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-ambition-drives-macbeth-into-downfall-in-shakespeares-play/
“How Ambition Drives Macbeth Into Downfall In Shakespeare’s Play.” GradesFixer, 10 Nov. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-ambition-drives-macbeth-into-downfall-in-shakespeares-play/
How Ambition Drives Macbeth Into Downfall In Shakespeare’s Play. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-ambition-drives-macbeth-into-downfall-in-shakespeares-play/> [Accessed 28 May 2024].
How Ambition Drives Macbeth Into Downfall In Shakespeare’s Play [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Nov 10 [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/how-ambition-drives-macbeth-into-downfall-in-shakespeares-play/
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