The Impact Of Ambition On Morality In The Play Macbeth

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The detrimental ramifications that unrelenting ambition and meritocratic injustice have on morality are extensively explored within William Shakespeare’s 1611 tragic play Macbeth and Mark Brozel’s film Shakespeare re-told. In Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth’s essentially good nature is evidenced through his guilt, however, due to his ambition for royalty his morality becomes corrupted as he becomes disloyal to the chain of being and commits regicide. In Brozel’s film Shakespeare re-told, Joe Macbeth is a hard-working chef, however, due to meritocratic injustice he endures, as opposed to ambition, he becomes corrupted and kills Duncan Docherty in the hope that he will receive due credit for his efforts. Ultimately, through Shakespeare’s use of literary devices in the play and Brozel’s use of film techniques in his contemporary adaption of Macbeth, both become a timeless warning of the darkness that coincides with unfaltering desire.

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In Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth’s ambition for royalty inaugurates his moral diminishment, however his nature is essentially good. In a divine universe that governs individuals’ personal lives, Macbeth believes he has the ability to dictate his own fate but ultimately he does not. This manifests early in the regicidal sub-plot when the evil witches ignite Macbeth’s internal angst for power, as Macbeth emotionally interjects following their prophecy, “What seemed corporal melted – Would they had stay’d!” Through Macbeth’s passionate sentiment for the witches, who embody corrupting ambition, his previously unparalleled loyalty to the Chain of Being is undermined. This is evident as Macbeth shifts his loyalty from the holy hierarchy of King Duncan and God to the period’s most irreverent minority, the demonic witches. In being corrupted, Macbeth lays the foundation for regicide and becomes Shakespeare’s warning for audiences of how ambition can sully even the devoutly indoctrinated. However, Macbeth in a state of hysterical remorse discusses that the murder of King Duncan is so horrific, that he will never be able to sleep again. The motif of sleep in ‘Sleep no more: Macbeth does murder sleep,’ symbolises that Macbeth’s mental peace has been ‘murdered’ due to the extent of Macbeth’s immense guilt. This guilt indicates the presence of conscience and thus, recognises Macbeth’s inhabitance of a universe regulated by morality in reference to understanding right from wrong and that he would also understand such concepts due to his guilt. Additionally, Macbeth’s immense guilt is further displayed through the hyperbole and religious allusion in ‘Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood Clean from my hand? No this my hand will rather, the multitudinous seas incarnadine,’ as Macbeth’s bloody hands turning the ocean red religiously alludes to an inability to wash away his sins. Macbeth’s exaggeration that the ocean, an expansive body of water, is unable to cleanse him of his sin indicates the extent of his guilt. It is Macbeth’s immense guilt that portrays him as an essentially good man as if he were otherwise, he would feel no remorse. Additionally, Shakespeare’s use of religious allusion connotes to the pre-Galilean universe Macbeth inhabits, as he believes that he has already undergone damnation as the ocean, created by God, cannot remove him of his sin. Therefore, corrupting ambition is Macbeth’s hamartia as it causes him to commit regicide and shift his loyalty from God towards the witches, however, due to his guilt and remorse, he is essentially good.

Additionally, In Brozel’s film Shakespeare Retold Joe Macbeth was essentially a good man however, he endures meritocratic injustice which corrupts him as he seeks what he believes he rightfully deserves. Macbeth works so hard in making his public world perfect that it becomes paradoxically destroyed. This is evidenced early in the film as Joe Macbeth is a hard-working chef which can be seen in a series of shots where Ella Macbeth says ‘He milks you for everything you’ve got… You’re too full of the milk of human kindness Joe.’ This shows that he is essentially good as he is ‘milked’ for his work because it is done well and he is so kind. However, due to the idea that Ella Macbeth believes ‘no amount of money covers what you do for him,’ Macbeth starts to become persuaded that he deserves more credit for his work. Joe and Ella Macbeth inhabit a post-Galilean universe that is regulated by the notion of cause and effect and thus, feel that they have been insufficiently rewarded for their efforts. In a sequence of close up shots where Ella insults Joe’s current achievements, Brozel uses rhetoric as she states ‘It is shaming to hear the truth, Joe? What kind of man is it who doesn’t feel humiliated in the position you’re in. what kind of man is that?” The use of close camera angles emphasises the importance of the rhetoric as it causes Joe Macbeth to question his current achievements and thus shows that Joe begins to become corrupted due to the meritocratic injustice he endures. Moreover, in a sequence of close up shots Joe becomes convinced that if Duncan is killed his due reward will follow and he will receive the three Michelin star restaurant. As Ella speaks, Brozel focuses on Joe’s face as he silently becomes corrupted by her persuasive dialogue. As Ella continues, the camera eventually equalises with the camera focus being equally placed on both Ella and Joe. This symbolises that they both become of one mind corrupted by their experience of injustice within their meritocracy related predicament. Within the film, Macbeth’s hamartia is his inability to endure meritocratic injustice as it causes him to murder Duncan Docherty, in order to receive what he believes he rightfully deserves. Therefore, Joe Macbeth was an essentially good man due to his kind and hardworking nature, however, due to the injustice he experiences, his better judgement is blinded as he kills Duncan.

Evidently, in the play, Macbeth’s corrupting ambition causes him to experience the detrimental ramifications of disloyalty to the great chain of being and regicide, as they ultimately impact his morality negatively. However, from these ramifications stems the notion that Macbeth is essentially good because of the guilt he feels resulting from his actions. However, Brozel’s film explores Joe Macbeth as an individual who was essentially good due to his hardworking nature and kindness. But, he becomes corrupted by his inability to accept meritocratic injustice, which ultimately causes him to kill Duncan Docherty and demonstrates his transformation from being good to becoming evil. Ultimately, Shakespeare and Brozel both forge an eternal tale to warn audiences of the potential destruction of morality that is inevitable in the wake of uncompromising ambition and meritocratic injustice.   

16 December 2021

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