The Influence Of Ambition On The Characters In Shakespeare's Macbeth

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While the values and morals of human society change over time as a result of socio-cultural evolution, the basis of human nature and human flaws still remain present in our inner-selves, allowing certain values and traits to endure and remain relevant over centuries. In Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Macbeth’, the composer conveys the timeless nature of human flaws such as ambition through the characters’ thoughts and actions. The characters in Macbeth, particularly the title character Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth, personify the timeless idea of human flaws as their ambition to advance to the throne overcomes them in different ways. Their downfall, as a result of their flaws, reflects on the human experience and can relate to all people regardless of the time in which they live. The play’s genre of tragedy, as well as the myriad language features used also assist the audience in understanding the concept of human flaws present in the play. Through the use of soliloquies as a method of conveying a character’s innermost thoughts and characteristics, as well as the use of prose and verse, Shakespeare is able to suggest themes of ambition and show the audience how it is affecting the characters. As Shakespeare creates an enduring value for his plays through the timeless nature of human flaws, he also sends an implicit message to his audience, there is a bit of Macbeth in all of us.

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Ambition is the gas that fuels the car, it is the jockey riding a horse, pushing it to run its fastest. It is the one thing that allows us to push ourselves and aspire to be more than we already are, and the one thing that has the capacity to overcome our emotions and corrupt us beyond belief. In William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the theme of ambition is presented as one of the worst vices of the play’s protagonist, Macbeth and his eventual hamartia. Throughout the play, Macbeth’s ambition continually grows until it can no longer be contained by his moral constraints, derailing him as a character and allowing his ambition to control his actions. At the beginning of the text, Macbeth is presented as a courageous, valiant and honourable thane, “disdaining fortune with his brandished steel…like valor’s minion carved out his passage till he faced the slave”. However, by the end of the play, he is considered a tyrant by his fellow nobles and is overcome by his ambition. Macbeth’s plight as a tragic hero, shaped by his ambition, reflects on ambition as an inherent characteristic of the human condition and allows audiences to reflect on their own sense of ambition. Ambition helps Shakespeare explore human flaws as the character of Macbeth is relatable and three-dimensional, generally reflective of society. He understands his loss of honour and valiance following the deaths of king Duncan and Banquo as he states that he is “In blood steeped so far that I should wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er” and even seems somewhat remorseful that his life had to end in the way it did. As Macbeth’s moral compass weakens, the audience can relate to his raw emotion and the accurate representation of his weaknesses, and therefore the weaknesses and vices of society. Macbeth’s ambition also acts as a warning to Shakespeare’s audience. In modern society, ambition is presented as a fundamental value, necessary to succeed in life. Shakespeare shows us the negative side/implications of unbridled ambition and allows the reader to see their own potential corruption. Shakespeare’s portrayal of the negative influences of ambition therefore transcend cultural and historical barriers and endure over the years.

In exploring the theme of ambition in Macbeth, the language forms and features used by Shakespeare further reinforce the enduring value of his plays. Language can tell us multitudes about a person and their traits, as well as their lifestyles and morals. It has the power to create meaning in different situations and alter our perspective of a character, event or idea. In the play Macbeth, many language forms and features are used to communicate themes of ambition and the way in which it overcomes the main characters. Through the use of soliloquies, Shakespeare allows his characters to reveal their true nature and thoughts, which are otherwise not expressed through the words and actions of the characters. During her soliloquy, Lady Macbeth dares evil spirits to “come… unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty” revealing the extent of her ambition for her husband, even wishing to be stripped of the weakness that comes with femininity and be filled with masculine resolve. The use of free verse in this quote represents Lady Macbeth’s authority and noble status as well as her ambition to continue climbing the ladder of nobility. The lack of rhyme and rhythm in this quote also represents Lady Macbeth’s fluctuation of thoughts and the primal transformation of her character from Macbeth’s meek wife into the driving force behind his ambition. The deterioration of her ambition and her overwhelming feeling of guilt is also represented through her eventual use of prose which occurs as she sleepwalks and says “come, come, come. Give me your hand. What’s done cannot be undone. To bed, to bed, to bed”. This repetitive and nonsensical prose contrasts the elegant and persuasive verse used by her character previously, representing her descent into madness and the way in which it has overcome her mind and reduced her to a shadow of her previous self.

Shakespeare’s enduring ideas on the timeless and complex nature of the human condition and human flaws allows audiences to relate to the themes and concepts presented in his plays no matter the time in which they live. Through the theme of ambition in the play ‘Macbeth’, as shown through the characters, genre and language forms and features, Shakespeare is not only able to create a text which has an immense enduring value, and remains relevant over decades, but he is able to convey a detrimental message to his audience. Beware of your own ambition, as there is a little bit of Macbeth in all of us.  

16 December 2021

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