Q. The play Macbeth explores the dangers associated with blind ambition. Discuss. William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth is primarily concerned with exploring the dangers associated with blind ambition. Shakespeare presents the audience with a character faced with clear moral choices and who is led down a path towards destruction because of his tragic character flaw, his overarching ambition. We can see this in how easily Macbeth is initially convinced to start down this road by the witches’ prophecy. Finally we see how Macbeth is driven to ever greater extremes of cruelty in order to maintain the position that his ambition has allowed him to attain. The dangers associated with blind ambition are portrayed in the manner in which the crimes they commit take a terrible toll on the minds of both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
Macbeth is initially presented in the play as a brave and noble character but it takes only a hint in the direction of kingship from the witches to enflame his ambition. Early in the play Macbeth is praised by the king for his courage and loyalty. He is a figure of admiration and is rewarded for his efforts with the Thane of Cawdor. Shakespeare gives Macbeth his first taste of power and ambition with the prophecy of the witches and this kindles a sense of curiosity in him about what the future may hold. He makes a leap between being a passive figure in the face of destiny to entertaining the idea that he may himself direct the workings of fate. As Macbeth says, “The Prince of Cumberland: that is a step
On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,” It seems to take only the merest nudge in the direction of his “dark desires” to cause a deep change in his character and to lure him into entertaining some awful crimes in order to achieve those ambitions. We are left with the question, would Macbeth have ever strayed from his noble character if he had not been given the initial push in that direction by the witches? The answer seems to be that the witches have merely allowed something that was dark and evil within Macbeth’s character to be pulled out into the light. If we begin to covet what others have then our ambitions can run amok and destroy us.
Having achieved his goal to become the King of Scotland Macbeth is forced to
become ever more brutal and cruel in order to defend his illegitimate position. Initially we see that Macbeth has a profound struggle with his conscience over the prospect and indeed finds many good reasons for not killing him. It is only the goading of Lady Macbeth over his manhood that keeps him on his bloody path. The murder causes Macbeth a great deal of mental anguish and we see a character distraught by the trauma of going against his essential character in the moments directly after the act. “… Sleep no more:
Macbeth does murder sleep…”
As the play progresses he overcomes his compunctions and supresses his conscience completely. The implication is that in order to maintain his position he must become more and more bloodthirsty and that his character must become more and more deformed. Shakespeare is making the observation that ambition is like a ravenous fire that consumes all in its path in order to maintain itself. Like tyrants throughout history we can see that, “Who is all powerful should fear everything.” The fear, suspicion and paranoia created by supreme power illegitimately gained leads to an inevitable bloodbath as the natural order is destroyed and chaos is unleashed. Macbeth’s ambition is such a force for disorder in the play and causes not only his downfall but that of many other characters and the whole state of Scotland.
The greatest element of tragedy in the play is the spectacle of Macbeth slowly losing his mind as a result of his guilt over the crimes that he has committed in order to fulfil his ambition. The beginning of the play portrays Macbeth as a noble warrior of sound mind and sound body. This however changes as the play progresses to the point where Macbeth becomes insane. This is due to the guilt of his actions. What emphasises the guilt that Macbeth feels even more is the core values that he has. He battles with his mind attempting to convince himself that it was justifiable yet his core morals and values tell him otherwise. “It will have blood; they say, blood will have blood”
Here Macbeth reflects on his deeds after Banquos ghost disappears. This is the start of his battle for his sanity. Because of his righteous core values, he believes that the evil deed that he has committed will ultimately result in his death. As the play progresses, his mental stability degrades with each evil deed he commits to the point where he has no desire to live anymore as he realises that all there is to live for, he has wasted away. “I have liv’d long enough: my way of life Is fall’n into the sear, the yellow leaf; And that which should accompany old age,” He comments that old age has come upon him hastily as his way of life has caused this.