Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s Tragic Flaw Is Their Over-Ambition For Power

Shakespere’s play, Macbeth, follows the story of a once loyal servant to the King, who was appointed General of the army and was honoured and commended for his services. In the play, Macbeth doesn’t react to this fondly, and instead grew a stronger desire for power and ranks. With tunnel vision for power, and Lady Macbeth’s negative influence on him, his mental state deteriorates with leads him to becoming mentally ill. These mental illnesses have a major impact on his mood, thought process, behaviour and decision-making, which leads to his premature decisions throughout the story, and ultimately, the outbreak which lead to both of their downfalls.

Firstly, it is evident that both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth possess certain mental illnesses that are responsible for their actions. Secondly, their power-hungry, greedy behaviours further developed their mental illness and lastly, how Lady Macbeth has a negative influence on Macbeth’s mental state and further worsened his condition. Some may argue that Macbeth doesn’t have a mental illness at all, and his actions are due to his true ambitions, with influence from the witches and Lady Macbeth.

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However, this essay will prove how Macbeth was once a loyal servant to the king and how his mental illness is what really caused him to perform the actions he does throughout the play.

To better understand the argument that Macbeth was meant to have mental illness in the first place, it is important to understand Benjamin Reiss’ theory about how Shakespeare was an expert on human psychology and mental illness.

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Benjamin talks about how Shakespeare was well ahead of his time, and understood mental illnesses better than anyone. Benjamin states “Shakespeare believed that madness was ‘disease of the brain’, and could be cured by medical means, aided by judicious care and management, all which he points out as clearly as it could be done by a modern expert.” Benjamin is basically saying that Shakespeare does in fact have a lot of knowledge on what mental illnesses are, and what they can do to the brain. This is why Shakespeare has written so much about mental illnesses and their symptoms in some of his plays, as he has such as vast understanding of what they are. Anyone who read the play at his time would have no idea that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have mental illness. Furthermore, Shakespeare intended to write the character’s this way. Therefore, to fully appreciate the argument that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth possess various different mental illnesses, it is essential to review this theory that argues Shakespeare is a psychological expert.

Macbeth’s service in the army landed him a position as Thane of Cawdor. In the play, Macbeth doesn’t react to this with affection, and instead makes him grow hungrier for power as he loves the fame and recognition he is getting. An over-ambition for power can be ultimately dangerous for Macbeth, especially taking the setting of the play into consideration. He is trusted and praised by his superiors, however they do not tread lightly when it comes to treason against the king. Macbeth becomes blinded to the potential consequences and instead grows stronger and deeper desire for power. He gets haunted by his true desires to the point where he has trouble thinking clearly. He also gets persistent, unusual thoughts that can’t be set aside and he’s feeling suspiciousness or uneasiness with others. At this point, Macbeth is experiencing symptoms of depression and early psychosis. When Macbeth shouts “Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires”. This is the psychotic Macbeth expressing how he feels, like the decision has already been made, that he’s willing to do anything to take the crown from Duncan and how he wants his secrets and desires to remain in the darkness. However, shortly after he states “We will proceed no further in this business. He hath honoured me of late and I have bought golden opinions from all sorts of people”. This is the old, loyal Macbeth speaking, saying how he wants to proceed no more with his original plan to kill Duncan, as he’s being honoured and commended for his services, and he’s most likely feeling guilt. It is like Macbeth has two personalities, and he’s being transformed from his old, loyal self to a psychotic, crazy power hungry killer, against his own will. Macbeth’s condition started off with depression, and lead to something much more serious. Mental illness was not officially recognized at the time in which the play takes place. If it was, it would have possibly put a stop to Macbeth’s actions. However, his psychosis wasn’t the only thing that pushed him towards his true desires.

Lady Macbeth has a very key role in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth. When her character is first introduced, she is already plotting to kill Duncan. She’s introduced as stronger, more merciless and ambitious than her husband. They both have the same ambitions, however, Lady Macbeth is ready and determined to go ahead with it, while Macbeth is in a confused state of mind. “What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness, to catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great, Art not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it.” Lady Macbeth is aware of her husband’s confused state of mind. Her way of persuading him to kill Duncan is by making him feel like he doesn’t have the guts to do it. When Macbeth tells her that he’s being assigned Thane of Cawdor, she believes that’s not a good enough reason to let Duncan live. “That made you break this enterprise to me? When you durst do it then you were a man. And to be more than what you were, you would be so much more than a man.” Macbeth thinks it’s unnecessary to kill Duncan, as he’s already getting the power he desires, however, Lady Macbeth is not satisfied. She accuses him of not being manly enough to do it. With Macbeth’s confused state of mind, Lady Macbeth is able to easily influence him into doing it. Although Macbeth’s true desires were to kill Duncan, he needed a little push in the right direction to get him to do it, which is where the character of Lady Macbeth comes in.

Macbeth’s psychosis and depression transforms him into a whole other person. He starts to develop symptoms of various other mental illnesses, and it begins to get out of control. He begins to develop symptoms of schizophrenia, such as delusions, hallucinations, irritability and lack of motivation. He’s delusional when he thinks the witches predictions are true, and he thinks that the whole world revolves around him, and everything will go his way. He also begins to hallucinate on multiple occasions, such as when he hallucinates seeing a dagger coming towards him. “Is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand. Come, let me clutch thee”. Macbeth thinks he sees a dagger coming towards him and feels as if he is being sent on a mission to kill Duncan. He is being manipulated by his own brain, and he’s starting to believe that he has to kill Duncan, as he is set out for it. After hallucinating the dagger, and siding with Lady Macbeth, this becomes the turning point for Macbeth. He isn’t skeptical about getting caught anymore and he’s not hesitant about killing Duncan. After the hallucinations, he feels like he’s truly invincible, and nothing can stop him. Immidiatly after his hallucinations, he grabs his dagger and commits Duncan’s murder.

After the murder of Duncan, Macbeth is instantly haunted by guilt and regret. He becomes overwhelmed and immediately begins to experience more hallucinations. He hears voices in his head, warning him of his sleepless nights ahead of him. Macbeth says “Methought I heard a voice cry, ‘Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep’ — the innocent sleep.” This is what Macbeth feared pre-killing Duncan. He feared that he would feel the guilt and anxiety after killing Duncan, and that’s exactly what happened. However, Lady Macbeth is not feeling the same guilt as she is very cold and unfeeling immediately after the killing. Macbeth’s original ambition to kill Duncan has ruined his life, and Macbeth feels that he no longer has the protection by God because he commited such a cold blooded murder. He feels that he can no longer say the words “Amen” or “God bless us”. Overall, these are examples which show the psycological impact the murder of Duncan had on Macbeth.

Post murder of Duncan, Macbeth has become a whole different person. He already thinks very little of himself and he’s accepted that he’s a cold blooded murderer. Macbeth’s psychosis has peaked and he become completely detached from reality, and his thoughts and emotions have become impaired. “To be thus is nothing, but to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo, stick deep, and in his royalty of nature reigns that which would be feared.” Macbeth is expressing how he feels unsafe with Banquo around, and suspects that he might try something against him. Macbeth also says “Upon my head they have placed a fruitless crown and put a barren scepter in my grip, thence to be wrenched with an unlineal hand, no son of mine succeeding.” He fears that he will be king temporarily until Banquo’s family takes over, and Fleance takes the crown. This is enough for Macbeth to order the killing of both Banquo and Fleance. The old Macbeth would have paused and thought to himself about the possible consequences and repercussions that would follow after killing these two. However, his psychosis has taken over, causing Macbeth to order the killing of both Banquo and Fleance, without feeling any sort of fear or guilt. Overall, this is one of the first examples that shows how Macbeth’s mental illness has caused his downfall.

Lady Macbeth, who seemed mentally untouched following the murder of Duncan, has began to experience the long term effects of PTSD. PTSD is a disorder that does not occur immediately after the traumatic event and instead could take days, weeks or even years. In her case, it just took a few nights following the murder for her symptoms to kick in. Originally, she was thirsty and ambitious for power, however her actions have taken a mental toll on her. Even though she wasn’t physically behind the murder, she knows that she was the brains behind it. “What, will these hands ne’er be clean? No more o’ that, my lord, no more o’ that”.This is Lady Macbeth talking in her sleep, expressing how she truly feels about killing Duncan. She’s probably getting flashbacks and hallucinations of what happened, and it’s mentally traumatizing her.

Macbeth’s condition hasn’t gotten any better either. His mental state has already deteriorated quite considerably which has had a major toll on his mood, decision making, behaviour, etc. After ordering the cold blooded murder of Duncan, Banquo and Fleance, Macbeth hasn’t been the same. His psychosis has already peaked, and his schizophrenia continues to show itself. At the banquet, Macbeth begins hallucinating Banquo. He truly thinks that Banquo is present when he says “The table’s full.” when in reality, there is a spare seat. Macbeth cannot differentiate what is real and what isn’t, which is an example of his schizophrenia and delusional disorder, also known as paranoid disorder. His mind is playing tricks on him, making him believe that Banquo is still alive, probably because deep down, he regrets ordering the murder of three innocent people. After experiencing all these symptoms, there is no turning back for Macbeth. His mental illnesses have reached a point of no going back and a result, it leads to his outbreak.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have both reached their outburst at this point. Macbeth’s mental illness has completely taken over his consciousness and Lady Macbeth has become so overwhelmed with everything going on that she begins to feel depressed and suicidal. This moment takes place at the end of the play, where Macbeth’s old companions are coming back to kill him. Lady Macbeth kills herself while Macbeth gets ready to go to battle. As he learns about the news, he shrugs it off, which shows how much his mental illnesses changed him as a person. “I have almost forgotten the taste of fears, the time has been my senses would have cooled, to hear a night shriek.” This is Macbeth saying that he almost forgot what fear is, as he’s evolved so much since the murder of Banquo. He’s said that he used to be terrified from a noise he heard during the night, however now he rarely fears anything. This proves that Macbeth’s ego has gotten progressively worse and he’s lost touch with reality. Moments later, he goes to battle and gets killed.

In conclusion, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s tragic flaw is their over-ambition for power, as afterall, that’s what drove them into becoming menally ill. If it weren’t for their pride and ego, they would have remained in their designated positions and lived happily serving under the king. However, they felt the need to kill the king and climb the ranks, and further developed their mental illnesses to the point where there’s no return.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s Tragic Flaw Is Their Over-Ambition For Power. (2024, Feb 07). Retrieved from

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