Macbeth as an Oxymoron

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 805 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Words: 805|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Macbeth's Ambition: A Paradox
  2. The Duality of Macbeth's Character
  3. The Paradox of Fate and Free Will
  4. Conclusion
  5. Bibliography

William Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth is a play filled with contradictions and paradoxes. Throughout the text, Shakespeare presents Macbeth, the protagonist, as an oxymoron, embodying qualities that are seemingly contradictory. This essay will explore the concept of Macbeth as an oxymoron and examine the implications of this contradictory nature in his character. By analyzing various aspects of Macbeth's personality and actions, we can uncover the complex nature of his character and the themes explored in the play.

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Macbeth's Ambition: A Paradox

One of the key aspects of Macbeth's character is his ambition. From the very beginning of the play, Macbeth displays a burning desire for power and success. However, this ambition is paradoxical in nature. On one hand, Macbeth's ambition is what drives him to take action and seize the throne. It is this ambition that leads him to commit heinous acts, such as the murder of King Duncan. Yet, on the other hand, Macbeth's ambition also becomes his downfall. His unrelenting desire for power ultimately leads to his own demise.

Shakespeare highlights this paradox through Macbeth's soliloquy in Act I, Scene VII, where Macbeth wrestles with his conscience and contemplates the consequences of his actions. He states, "I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself / And falls on the other." This oxymoronic statement reveals the internal conflict within Macbeth, as his ambition propels him forward, but also leads to his downfall.

The Duality of Macbeth's Character

Another aspect of Macbeth's character that exemplifies the oxymoron is his duality. Throughout the play, Macbeth is portrayed as both a valiant warrior and a ruthless murderer. This contradiction in his character adds depth and complexity to his portrayal, making him a truly tragic figure.

Initially, Macbeth is praised as a brave and honorable soldier. In Act I, Scene II, the Captain describes Macbeth's bravery in battle, stating, "For brave Macbeth—well he deserves that name— / Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel, / Which smoked with bloody execution." This description presents Macbeth as a fearless warrior, contradicting the later depiction of him as a paranoid and bloodthirsty tyrant.

As the play progresses, Macbeth's duality becomes more apparent. His ambition and desire for power corrupt him, leading him to commit atrocious acts. However, amidst these acts, there are moments of doubt and guilt that reveal his inner turmoil. This internal struggle is evident in his famous soliloquy in Act V, Scene V, where Macbeth reflects on the futility of life. He states, "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage / And then is heard no more." This introspective moment showcases Macbeth's conflicted nature, as he grapples with the consequences of his actions and the meaninglessness of his pursuit of power.

The Paradox of Fate and Free Will

The concept of fate versus free will is another paradox explored in Macbeth. Macbeth is presented as a character who is both controlled by fate and driven by his own choices. This juxtaposition adds to the complexity of his character and raises profound questions about the nature of human agency.

Throughout the play, Macbeth consults the witches and their prophecies, which predict his rise to power. These prophecies, combined with his own ambition, lead Macbeth to believe that he is destined to become king. However, Macbeth's actions and decisions ultimately shape his destiny. He chooses to act on the witches' prophecies, giving in to his ambition and setting in motion a chain of events that lead to his downfall.

This paradox is evident in Act I, Scene III, where the witches say to Macbeth, "All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!" This prophecy sets Macbeth on a path of destruction, as he becomes consumed by his desire for power. While the prophecy may suggest a predetermined fate, Macbeth's choices and actions play a significant role in the tragic outcome of the play.


In conclusion, William Shakespeare's Macbeth presents the titular character as an oxymoron, embodying contradictory qualities and actions. Macbeth's ambition, duality, and the paradox of fate and free will all contribute to his complex characterization. By exploring these contradictions, Shakespeare delves into themes of ambition, morality, and the consequences of unchecked desire. Macbeth serves as a cautionary tale, highlighting the dangers of succumbing to one's inner contradictions and the devastating effects it can have on both the individual and society.

Shakespeare's portrayal of Macbeth as an oxymoron invites us to reflect on the complexities of human nature and the choices we make. As we witness Macbeth's tragic downfall, we are reminded of the fragile balance between ambition and morality. The play serves as a timeless reminder that the pursuit of power and success, if not tempered by conscience and self-reflection, can lead to our own destruction.

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Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger Shakespeare Library, 2012.

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Macbeth as an Oxymoron. (2024, Jun 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 20, 2024, from
“Macbeth as an Oxymoron.” GradesFixer, 14 Jun. 2024,
Macbeth as an Oxymoron. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 20 Jul. 2024].
Macbeth as an Oxymoron [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 14 [cited 2024 Jul 20]. Available from:
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