Ambition: the Key to Self-Destruction

In: English and Literature

Submitted By leannecol
Words 911
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Ambition: The key to self-destruction

Ambition is normally seen as a positive quality in an individual, but it can in fact spiral out of control. In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, readers witness this exact situation; ambition is what leads to Macbeth’s destruction. This trait can also be referred to as his hamartia. The dangerous growth of ambition begins when the witches present to him a prophecy, continues when Lady Macbeth pushes him until, finally, he has built up enough to drive himself to destruction.

To begin with, the first instance in which ambition presents a danger is when Macbeth gets encouraged by the witches’ supernatural promises. After he hears the witches declare that he will be named Thane of Cawdor and “shalt be king hereafter” (I. iii. 48), a spark is lit and his darker side comes out. This is especially noticed when he says, “my thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, shakes so my single slate of man that function / Is smother’d insurmise, and nothing is / But what is not.” (I. iii. 138-141). It is visible at this time that ambition is just beginning to drive him in the wrong direction and away from moral consciousness. This battle of conscious vs excessive ambition is central to the story. It is referred to by Lady Macbeth, upon welcoming Macbeth home after hearing of his title as Thane of Cawdor, when she states, “Thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without / The illness should attend it”. (I. v. 17-19)
Here, she is afraid that Macbeth is ‘too kind’ and does not have enough ambition to become King. We later find out she is wrong.

Later on, Lady Macbeth encourages the ambition within him and pushes him past the point of no return. She is really pushing for him to kill King Duncan so he can become King, even though the prophecy doesn’t state that anything has to be done for this to happen. Even…...

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