Macbeth by Shakespeare: The Importance of Balance in Ambition

About this sample

About this sample


Words: 767 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Words: 767|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Aug 6, 2021

Ambition is often seen as a very admirable trait, with it frequently being associated with drive and hard work in order to accomplish a lofty goal. However, it is very possible for someone to have too much ambition. Too much ambition can result in corrosive and obsessive desire to achieve a goal by any means, often crossing moral boundaries. This view is exemplified through the main character, Macbeth, in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The play follows an ambitious, high ranking Scottish warrior whose main goal is to be king. As Macbeth continues his quest for kingship, he is faced with the choice of selecting moral goodness or power, eventually choosing the latter. And although he does reach his goal of being king, this ambition and lust for power are inevitably what drives him into psychosis. In writing Macbeth, it is clear that Shakespeare’s goal was to convey the idea that ambition needs to be balanced with other traits like morality and empathy, otherwise, if left without restraints, ambition can infect other admirable traits with its disease.

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In the beginning of the play, Shakespeare’s stance on ambition, especially concerning Macbeth, is reflected through Lady Macbeth, specifically, in her first speech, where she says that Macbeth needs to sacrifice his kindness in order to rise higher in the hierarchy. In her first speech, she explains that Macbeth is “too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness”. In a very literal sense, when a mother is raising her child, breastfeeding is very common. In essence, Shakespeare is comparing Macbeth’s kindness to the kindness of a mother to her child. Thus, Shakespeare is communicating that this maternal-like kindness is making Macbeth unfit to accomplish his goals of being king. In order for this to change, this “milk of human kindness” that Macbeth possesses, needs to be “spoiled.” In other words, if Macbeth wants to be king, he has to cross moral boundaries in order to feed his ambition. Until this point, Macbeth has shown a balance between his ambition and morality, by becoming the Thane of Cawdor without compromising his morals. However, Shakespeare makes it clear that Macbeth’s kindness is a restraint on his ambition and if he wants to rise higher in the hierarchy, he needs to let the disease of his ambition overtake his morality by crossing moral boundaries.

As the play continues, Shakespeare shows the snowball effect of ambition as the play progresses, with Macbeth’s ambition continually growing and his actions becoming steadily more irrational, eventually letting ambition take over, ruining the balance needed for healthy ambition. After Macbeth realizes his good moral character is holding him back, he begins to plan his first devious, morally compromising act. Macbeth plans to kill the current king, Duncan, in order to ascend the throne and take over. This marks the first domino in the domino effect of Macbeth’s ambition, which eventually leads to his psychosis. As Macbeth plans Duncan’s murder, he thinks to himself “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself and falls on th’ other”. Shakespeare crafts this excerpt very carefully, using the equestrian terms of “spurs” and “vaulting” to create a double entendre. At first glance, it seems like Macbeth is telling himself his ambition has taken over and it is the sole reason for murdering Duncan. However, under further inspection, it is clear that in writing this quote, Shakespeare also describes a novice horseman who falls off his horse and onto the ground. Through this metaphor, Shakespeare is claiming that Macbeth’s own ambition will be his downfall, beginning the snowball effect of ambition. As one can see, Shakespeare begins to show the corrosive disease of ambition taking a toll on him, completely shifting his character. This marks the first time Macbeth breaks free from his former restraints of “the milk of human kindness,” ruining the balance between his ambition and good moral character. Towards the end of the play, Macbeth is threatened by the prospect of Macduff exposing Macbeth for ordering and carrying out several murders to secure the throne. As a reaction to this, Macbeth has Macduff’s family killed, an extreme and unjustifiable crime.

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The progression of Macbeth’s actions across the play, starting with killing Duncan to having an entire innocent family killed demonstrates the domino effect of ambition. The difference in severity of his crimes show that once morals are compromised, the fine line of ethics becomes near invisible, past the point of no return. Ultimately, through Macbeth’s actions Shakespeare concludes that if morals and ambition are thrown out of balance, the barrier between right and wrong shifts drastically. 

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Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Macbeth By Shakespeare: The Importance Of Balance In Ambition. (2021, August 06). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 28, 2024, from
“Macbeth By Shakespeare: The Importance Of Balance In Ambition.” GradesFixer, 06 Aug. 2021,
Macbeth By Shakespeare: The Importance Of Balance In Ambition. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 28 May 2024].
Macbeth By Shakespeare: The Importance Of Balance In Ambition [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Aug 06 [cited 2024 May 28]. Available from:
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