Explore the ways ambition is presented and developed in the texts Macbeth and Animal Farm. Macbeth and Animal farm have many common elements that can be paralleled between the two texts. One of the main ideas is the way the two main characters, Macbeth and Napoleon have an intense ambition and languish to have control over others which they take by force and their desperate attempts to contain it. William Shakespeare portrays Macbeth as a cold-blooded, power-hungry and ambitious tyrant, blinded by his burning desire to be authoritative, who will go to extreme measures to achieve his goals. On the contrary, George Orwell shows Napoleon as a manipulative character who hides his true intentions (much like Macbeth) from all those around him, even those who are his supposed allies. Both texts have historical backgrounds. Orwell writes about the Russian Revolution, in form of an allegory, (which has led to the fable being described as political literature with universal resonance), however Macbeth was a play of extreme violence written in the Elizabethan period for the reigning monarchs (King James I) in 1606.
Shakespeare shows the darker side of humanity through Macbeths desire to be the best and how he becomes ruthless and emotionless from securing it. Macbeths ambition first comes to light to the reader when Banquo describes Macbeth as “rapt withal” after hearing the witches prophecies which strongly indicated that he would become King. The word “rapt” can be interpreted to be a double entendre suggesting that Macbeth is both wrapped up in his thoughts and is unable to find a way out as well as being literally entranced and “rapt” by the news the witches have told him. Although Banquo strongly dismisses the idea that the prophecies could even contain the faintest bit of truth however Macbeth quickly becomes intrigued by what the witches have to offer him pleading “Stay you imperfect speakers. / Tell me more.” It is at this point that the reader realises that Macbeth’s desires are not “honest trifles” like those of his companions and later on in the scene this idea is reinforced by Shakespeare’s deliberate use of an “[Aside]” showing that Macbeth is aware his thoughts are wrong.
Audiences watching they play at the time would have believed that Macbeth was acting under the influence of the witches enchantments when deciding to keep his desires to himself. This links to the idea of Macbeth’s ambition taking priority over loyalty towards the king and his companions, knowing that if they could hear his thoughts they would horrified. Shakespeare represents Macbeth’s desire in a direct and harsh way in comparison to Orwell who tries to subtly introduce Napoleon and keep his thoughts private from the reader. When both characters are first introduced their description give the reader an insight as to what their personalities are like and in Napoleons case could foreshadow later events. In the opening of the second chapter Orwell introduced Napoleon as “a large, rather fierce-looking Berkshire boar, the only Berkshire on the farm” as well as stating that he was “not much of a talker but with a reputation for getting his own way.” This immediately sets him apart from the rest of the pigs and the word “only” also shows he has a different mind-set from those around him and is a unique and individual character. The deliberate use of the word “large” is effective as it foreshadows the magnitude of Napoleon’s ambition to gain power and control of Animal Farm.
The description of Napoleon as “fierce-looking” also could suggest that he will terrorise the animals later on in the book and he will rely on fear in order to fulfil his ambition. On the other hand the description of Macbeth as “noble” and “valiant” leaves the reader with a false first impression of Macbeth’s personality. In Act 1 Scene 7 Shakespeare expresses Macbeth’s feelings and emotions through the use of a soliloquy. This is a technique he uses to show the confusion that Macbeth is facing due to his ambition to rule Scotland. In the beginning of the soliloquy Macbeth is questioning whether sacrilege is the answer to his problems and his state of mind is unstable suggesting he does not want to commit a crime. Near the end of the soliloquy he uses nature imagery to show what he is doing is unnatural and going against the ‘Divine Right of King’ by personifying nature through stating that “The tears shall drown the wind.”
This could be a reference to the tears that will be shed by those in the castle upon hearing of King Duncan’s death. The last lines of the soliloquy are important as Macbeth states: “I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition which o’erleaps itself / And falls on th’other–” suggesting that he aware that the consequences of allowing his ambition to control his actions could backfire. This implies that Macbeth’s excessive ambition is like a horse that attempts to cross a hurdle that is too high and falls.” It is extremely convenient that Lady Macbeth enters at this time as this suggests that she is the spur that will drive him on to achieve the power and status that he believes he rightly deserves.