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How ambition causes the tragedy of Macbeth

The tragedy of Macbeth (The tragedy of Macbeth ) by William Shakespeare is a dramatization of the psychological impact of unbridled ambition. Macbeth’s ambition is the main element of his characterization, his tragic flaw. It is the cause of the derailment of the protagonist work, who lacks any moral principle. Ambition makes Macbeth lose all semblance of rationality, and he feels that his power is threatened to the point where he can only preserve it by murder. It is ambition that brings about the downfall of Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth. Macduff defeats Macbeth in battle and beheads him; meanwhile, Lady Macbeth succumbs to the madness of guilt and commits suicide.

macbeth’s ambition

Macbeth’s ambition is driven by several factors. He has a deep desire for power but that is not enough to explain his crimes. There are two concurrent factors in the generation of his violent actions aimed at gaining power.

One of these factors is the prophetic. Throughout the play, the three witches dictate a series of prophecies, particularly the one that satisfies Macbeth’s ultimate ambition, power: the three witches prophesy that he will become king. Macbeth trusts his prophecies even more with the passing of the work, and his decisions, especially the cruelest ones, are based on his omens; Among them, the assassination of Banquo, his former comrade-in-arms, stands out. Although the prophecies are fulfilled, the work does not clarify if it is because they are mandated by destiny or because men make them come true through their actions and decisions, driven by predictions that serve their interests and ambitions.

The second of the determining factors in Macbeth’s decisions is Lady Macbeth, his wife. The witches’ prophecies trigger Macbeth’s ambition but it is his wife who incites him to murder. It is Lady Macbeth’s urging that encourages Macbeth to cast guilt aside from him and kill King Duncan; she tells him to focus on his ambition, not his conscience.

Macbeth’s lust for power soon spirals out of control, leading him to murder again and again to cover up his earlier decisions. The first victims in this sequence are King Duncan’s chamberlains, whom Macbeth frames for the king’s murder to cover up his own crime, and then murders as intended punishment. Later in the play, Macbeth’s fear of Macduff prompts him to hunt down not only him but his entire family, murdering them. The needless murder of Lady Macduff and her children is the clearest example of Macbeth losing control at the hands of his unbridled ambition.

ambition and morality

The work also raises a moral aspect opposed to the ambition of Macbeth. To test Macduff’s loyalty, Malcolm pretends to be greedy, lustful, and lustful for power. When Macduff responds by condemning him and worrying about Scotland’s future under a king with such moral values, he relieves his loyalty, refusing to submit to the tyrants.

In this reaction from Macduff, along with Malcolm’s decision to put him to the test, the play makes it clear that moral values ​​are far more important than irrepressible ambition.

The consequences of ambition

The consequences of ambition in the play are terrible: not only are innocent people murdered, but Macbeth ends up being a tyrant. The protagonist becomes a villain, the antithesis of the noble hero he was at the beginning of the play, when he was fighting valiantly against the invaders of Scotland. And most remarkable: Shakespeare does not give Macbeth or his wife the opportunity to enjoy what they have achieved by pursuing his ambition. The author states that the moral path is the correct one to reach the objectives that are set, and that it is even impossible to fully enjoy the fruits of immoral decisions and actions.

The play concludes with Malcolm as the victorious king, Macbeth’s irrepressible ambition defeated. But is this the conclusion of ambition in Scotland? The play challenges the audience with the prophecies of the witches, which portend that an heir of Banquo will become king. And in this way it returns to an essential approach of the work: will Baquo’s heir act according to his own ambition, justifying himself in the prophecies, or is it fate that will determine the actions of men?


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  • Nicholas Brooke. The tragedy of Macbeth edited by Nicholas Brooke . Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990. ISBN 978-0199535835.
  • Macbeth: Themes . sparknotes.
  • Victor Beser Sastre, Felix Calero Sanchez. Macbeth and history . University of Alcala.