Macbeth is introduced in William Shakespeare’s play as a great warrior, whose loyalty and prominence in the battlefield wins him great honor and esteem from the king of Scotland. However, his “vaulting ambition” seems to water down all the goodness that one would like to associate with him. As the play unfolds, Macbeth’s personality seems to change from better to worse as even his character becomes increasingly shaped by despair, guilt, and madness. His desire to be the King drives him to make stupid decisions that included murdering other characters. In this brief analysis, I argue that it is Macbeth’s extreme ambition for power which eventually led to his downfall.
In the first act of scene 5, Lady Macbeth tells Macbeth that he possesses an ambition, but lacks the “illness” which is a necessity for fulfilling his ambition. The drive to ascend into kingship is thus motivated by prophecies of the witches that one day he will achieve great power, as well as the desire to assert his manliness over his wife. For instance, Lady Macbeth urges her husband to be a “serpent” under his tongue. When King Duncan finally announces his intention to pass over kingship to his son, Malcolm, Macbeth is utterly frustrated. Murderous rage becomes his driving force as he even undergoes dreadful pangs of conscience.
Act III scene 2 presents a totally different Macbeth in so far as character is concerned. He is now a stereotypical villain who will go to any extent to have ambition materialized. He begins by killing King Duncan to ascend to power. A desperate move to consolidate power soon ensues and Macbeth plots a series of murders. He kills Banquo as his son, Fleance asks by a whisker. Fleance and Macduff threaten Macbeth’s position as a king. He now plots to kill anybody threatening his position as the King. Eventually, Macbeth is killed by Macduff but the reality is that is it the ambition that drove him to his death.
Shakespeare, W., & Braunmuller, A. R. (2008). Macbeth. New York: Cambridge University Press.