How Macbeth’s Ambition Leads to His Retributive Justice

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About this sample


Words: 2767 |

Pages: 6|

14 min read

Published: Nov 8, 2021

Words: 2767|Pages: 6|14 min read

Published: Nov 8, 2021

In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth’s path to greatness leads to the deterioration of his character and his ultimate demise. First, he listens to prophecies of the witches, developing his ambition and unleashing his wicked thoughts to disrupt the great chain of being by killing Duncan the King of Scotland. Second, he incorporates the advice of his wife (“partners in greatness”) to provoke him and “spur” him on to fulfill his dreams, giving him and his wife too much to handle. Last, his paranoia of his position upon the throne guides him to betray his fellow thanes and best friends, leading to a revolution among his army. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth allows his great ambition to become King of Scotland drive him to the betrayal of royalty, his wife’s death and his brutal demise.

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The prophecies of the three witches provoke Macbeth to imagine the power he will have upon the throne. The three witches have hailed him as the “Thane of Cawdor” making him question if the other prophecies about himself are true. First, Macbeth and Banquo have just come back from talking to the witches and listening to the prophecies that have been given to them. Macbeth has a significant aside “two truths are told” where he has terrible thoughts about killing the King “come what come may”, stating what happens between him and his prophecies is destined to occur. He cannot control fate and the supernatural remains out of his hands. He urges the stars to hide his “dark and deep desires” (making him appear deceitful). The witches had already foreshadowed that Macbeth will eventually be Thane of Cawdor and King. And now, Macbeth is just the Thane of Glamis. Macbeth is so confused and at the same time is afraid about his future. He does not know how such things could happen. He knows he is not allowed to climb the social ladder to achieve greatness. “To be King stands not within the prospect of belief.”’  It is not possible for a noble like Macbeth to suddenly become without a certain chai n of events. Macbeth knows that for this to potentially happen the King would need to be removed. Macbeth then has thoughts about the possibility of the murder of the King “my thought, whose murder yet fantastical.” He has gone from being faithful to the King to wanting his crown. He later gets told by Ross that he is the Thane of Cawdor after the betrayal of the ex-thane. This means the first part of the prophecy has been fulfilled, making Macbeth feels that his ambition is not just inside his head but physically possible. His vaulting ambition is starting to become unleashed and he starts to think that he could actually achieve this goal. However, Macbeth still has his moral conscience and brushes off these thoughts, displaying how he is still a good person. Second, when Duncan is talking about the ex-thane of Cawdor, Macbeth enters the scene. Duncan mentions Malcolm will be his heir. Macbeth has an aside stating he knows Duncan and Malcolm are in his path. He feels as if he needs to take fate into his own hands to fulfill the prophecy by removing them from his way. Realizing that the witches tell the truth, Macbeth feels as if it’s his responsibility for his progress. This attitude can and will impact his behavior in the future. Macbeth feels as if the prophecy is slipping away and realizes the steps he has to take to overthrow Duncan. It is at this point that the audience sees his ambition once more. Macbeth is shocked! He thought that he was going to wear the crown upon his head. He knows it has to be his destiny to become King, as it was prophesied that he will become the “Thane of Cawdor” and he later is. His ambition now faces two obstacles; he needs to overcome them to be King. “On which I must fall, or else o'erleap, For in my way it lies.” He will either fail in this attempt or be successful. Through his ambitious nature he is willing to take the chance. He is aware of this and knows that if he is going to become King he has to kill Duncan and then kill Malcolm. Macbeth becomes so ambitious that instead of letting nature take its course and to claim the throne by natural means, he takes it upon himself to fulfill the prophecy with his might. He cannot simply pass up the chance and has to disrupt the great chain of being. He wants to climb the ladder and violate the accepted social boundaries that were put forth by God. He wants to be the best and the greatest, so much so that he contemplates doing what's wrong and betraying his master. This entire scene is very ironic as Duncan describes Macbeth as a righteous man and trusts him. Indeed, Duncan cannot “find the mind's construction in the face.” Duncan makes the audience feel pathos as he is seen as a nice person caught in a bad situation. He supplements Macbeth’s ambition forcing him to take the next steps. Macbeth will use this trust to his advantage later on in the play to attempt to kill Duncan. Last, Macbeth has a hallucination of a dagger that is summoning him to kill the King. Macbeth’s mind is full of bloody business. Macbeth wants to take matters upon himself and not leave to fate. In the dagger soliloquy, the ambition he possesses leads him to hallucinate a dagger in his hand. The dagger is the result of his guilt and the “bloody business” that he is about to do. His vision is blurred and it’s this vision that is leading him towards Duncan’s room. “Thou marshall’ st me the way.” The ambition that he has is clouding his vision, he is changing his character and is fully ready to take Duncan’s crown. This act would finally give him peace of mind “The curtain’d sleep.” Through his ambition, he would be fulfilling this prophecy; making the witches happy about what he is about to do. He is aware that this ambition is going to get him in trouble and is conscious that his life is about to change for better or for worse. “I go and it is done: the bell invites me. Hear it not Duncan, for it's knell, That summons thee to heaven to hell.” Therefore, his desire for the throne was always in his head; it only required someone to provoke into reality.

Lady Macbeth uses her strong and ambitious nature to “unsex” herself to provide Macbeth with the confidence to fulfill his prophecy. This prophecy added to their ambitious natures takes a huge toll on Lady Macbeth's character. First, Lady Macbeth greets her husband almost like the witches, giving him the same confidence. When reading the letter from her “partner in greatness” she unleashes her motivated and strong character to help her husband conquer the throne. She is determined he will be King. To do this however she says that he wouldn’t cheat to win, but would not mind winning by cheating. She appeals to the evil spirits to “unsex” her as she needs to be more aggressive. She knows that this same supernatural force presented the prospect of Macbeth becoming King and can help her become powerful enough to persuade her husband. She knows deep down Macbeth wants to carry out the deed, it just needs some pushing in the right direction; just as the witches planted that persuasive seed in his head. However, her work has Macbeth so riled up and ruthless that he takes action to protect his throne as much as he can. So much so that he alienates his wife, leading to a complete contrast in her character. In her soliloquy, she sent evil spirits toward Duncan for misfortunes. It is ironic as she is the one who lives in fear and Duncan is the one at eternal peace. Secondly, she realizes his “hamartia” and quickly makes her intentions to remove everything that prevents him from acting on his temptations. He wants to progress in a non-evil way. She knows her husband is too good to do evil (kill the King). However, she does identify her husband’s tragic flaw (very ambitious), displaying that she knows her husband extremely well. She says his face is like a book because he looks like he is about to do something unpleasant. Macbeth has the “look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent under.” This is an allusion to the biblical story of Adam and Eve. She is seen as a brave character, one that will do anything in her power to win. This displays how hard she is willing to work to become a Queen. At this point, she is so ambitious; it appears as if she wants the prophecy to come true more than Macbeth. She reassures to remove all the doubt and fear in his head; thoughts that prevent him from not getting the crown. Macbeth takes this advice and uses it to conquer all aspects of opposition to his throne. It is at this point his moral values that made him so strong are turning against him. That night, Duncan is supposed to be at their castle but he is never going to leave. Towards the end of the play Lady Macbeth does not seem so happy she is Queen. It becomes clear that Lady Macbeth is ultimately responsible for her demise. She thinks she will be completely remorseless but ultimately cannot hide her guilt. Throughout the play, she mentions how being Queen is not what she thought it would be. “Nought's had, all's spent, where our desire is got without content: Tis safer to be that which we destroy than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy. She would rather be dead than to feel the guilt of her actions, foreshadowing the end of the story.” Lastly, Lady Macbeth questions his manliness and desire to the point where Macbeth feels the need to prove himself for her. Macbeth has a soliloquy outlining five reasons as to why he should not kill the King. In this soliloquy, Macbeth admits his “hamartia” which is he is too ambitious. As the soliloquy ends Macbeth states that he has no “spur”. This is ironic as Lady Macbeth enters the scene since she will be his “spur” for committing murder. Macbeth tells his wife that “we will proceed no further in this business”. Lady Macbeth knows he has to get Macbeth on board to gain power. She sets out her strong nature to make him feel guilty. Lady Macbeth calls her husband a coward and tries to persuade him to kill King Duncan. She says, 'Wouldst thou have that which thou esteem’st the ornament of life, and live a coward in thine own esteem, letting “I dare not” wait upon “I would,' Like the poor cat i th adage.' She questions his ambition and loyalty towards her. When Macbeth is still doubtful she tries to take it up a notch. She begins to outline a detailed plan enterprising to achieve their objective. Lady Macbeth is so ambitious she doesn't see how she could fail; Macbeth sees the confidence and belief that his wife has. Since they are “partners in greatness'' Macbeth is on board with the plan and says “I am settled”, Macbeth knows he has the confidence to kill the King and do the “deed”. However, Lady Macbeth does not have this same confidence/manliness at the end. She looks destroyed and broken. The audience does not fear her but feels pathos. Therefore, Lady Macbeth’s ambition to be Queen leaves her ruined and a contrast to the powerful women she seemed to be.

The ambitious nature to remain, King, allows Macbeth to commit harmful acts that contrast to the person he was at the beginning of the play. First, Macbeth is so nervous that he seeks the assurance of the witches about his rule on the throne. An image with Banquo having descendants of the throne angers him. “For the blood-boltered Banquo smiles upon me.” Macbeth wants to kill Banquo and Fleance so they cannot harm his rule. Banquo has a soliloquy in which he is suspicious of Macbeth. He meets him and speaks about the upcoming banquet there are having that night. Macbeth questions Banquo about his activities that afternoon. Macbeth knows that Banquo is aware of the predictions. He also knows that Banquo’s child Fleance may threaten his position as King. Because of this Macbeth knows Banquo is strong and brave enough to take him on. Macbeth is so ambitious to retain the power that he calls on murderers to kill Banquo and his son. Macbeth does not feel any remorse for killing Banquo and he is so caught up in his aspirations. Macbeth who was a noble and trustworthy man is now paranoid, remorseless and cold-blooded. Second, Macbeth suspects Macbeth is a traitor since he fled to England. He wants to take action trying to kill Macduff’s family. “The castle of Macduff I will surprise.” Macbeth does not need to hurt his family and it displays the ruthlessness he shows in his character. Macbeth seeks revenge. When Macbeth is at the banquet he is angry that Macduff because he is not there. After trying to get reassuring from the witches Lennox tells Macbeth that Macduff has fled to England. Macbeth lets his paranoia of the throne take over and sees this as a betrayal. Macbeth decides to attack Macduff’s castle and murder his family. This is proof of the collapse of his character. There is no reason for the murder especially after the witches have reassured him. This is a pure act of evilness and cruelty. Unfortunately for Macbeth, this has a bad knock-on effect. This motivates Macduff to help restore the great chain of being in Scotland and convince Malcolm to reclaim his kingdom. Lastly, Macbeth is so determined to become King and remain King that he alienates his wife displaying the disconnect that they had in the beginning of the story. She has become isolated and is overcome by her guilt, ultimately killing herself. Lady Macbeth has been acting strangely lately in her castle. She has been sleepwalking, writing letters to her husband, talking in her sleep and constantly carrying a candle. Lady Macbeth is now suffering and is a pitiful woman on the brink of insanity. They seem to be drifting further and further apart from one another. Macbeth is making important decisions, like arranging for the murder of Banquo, or about his plan to kill Macduff’s family. At the beginning of the play those would have been key instances that they would have had to discuss and show their partnership. However, by Macbeth being so caught up in being the King he loses sleep. He allows himself to lose reality and also alienates himself along with his wife. When Macbeth hears of Lady Macbeth’s death and the approach of Birnam Wood he recognizes that his time is up. His thanes are all together to fight against him. This is a contrast to Macbeth’s state of insecurity. Killing King Duncan, taking his throne, the loss of his wife and instantly the capture of his crown seems to be all a bad dream. His ambition has his thanes want to overthrow him and restore the great chain of being. There is a contrast between the unity of the thanes and the unity of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The final scene involves a confrontation between Macduff and Macbeth. In their struggle, Macbeth is beheaded by Macduff. The forces of good are now restored. Therefore, the ambition to remain King allows Macbeth to hurt his allies and loved ones.

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In conclusion, Macbeth’s ambition has a devastating effect on his fantasies; the eagerness to become the best leads to the death of the King, the deterioration of his wife and the betrayal of his best friend along with his own destruction. First, the witches’ predictions trick him into believing he is destined to disrupt the structure of society by killing the “God” representative they have on earth. Second, his wife’s confidence allows him to become King but their “hamartia” is unlocked and paralyzes them. Last, he is so ruthless to destroy any threats towards his throne that he loses his respectability and provokes a revolution against him; along with his loss of connection with his wife. Therefore, Macbeth’s ambition allows him to take fate into his own hands with the end result being betrayal and retribution.

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How Macbeth’s Ambition Leads To His Retributive Justice. (2021, November 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from
“How Macbeth’s Ambition Leads To His Retributive Justice.” GradesFixer, 10 Nov. 2021,
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