Last Updated 03 Jan 2023

An Analysis of the Theme of Evil Ambition in the Play Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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In Macbeth, Shakespeare uses the image of evil to convey the outcome of ambition run amuck. By using evil as a force in the play, audiences get a feeling a loss of control of Macbeth and the sense of fear. Evil is defined in Shakespeares Glossary as, sin, crime, misfortune, calamity and things that are unwholesome. In the beginning the sense of evil in Macbeth is created through the witches. They feed on what is foul and corrupt: When shall we three meet again in thunder, lightening, or rain?(A1. sc1.) This image of the witches was real to the people of these times. To them and King James I, witches did exist.

Fair is foul, and foul is fair: Hover through the fog and filthy air: (A1. sc1.) This quote proves the witches hatred for all things good, and their love for things that are evil. It is clear that the witches are the roots of evil in the play. Evil is spread through them, in the form of ambition to Macbeth, and his wife. The witches cause Macbeth to think of what it would be like to be King of Scotland: All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter. (A1.sc.3) In turn the thought of regicide comes into being within Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth sets Macbeths ambition into motion; she persuades Macbeth to take action through her own ambition: Great Glamis! Worthy Cawdor! Greater than both, by all-hail hereafter! Lady Macbeth recognises that her husband is ambitious, but worries that he is without, The illness should attend it (A1 sc.5). She thinks that he is not ruthless enough.

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When Macbeth illustrates his fears of failing, Lady Macbeth says: But screw your courage to the sticking-place, And well not fail. (A1 sc.6)

Lady Macbeth is the mastermind behind the killing Duncan, and its Macbeth that commits the evil deed because Lady Macbeth, being a woman cannot. In Macbeth, for although his lady for a time dominates him, and although her tragedy is almost equal to his, in the end he dominates the play (Paul A. Jorgens)

The second evil act is the actual crime of regicide against Duncan. Shakespeare uses the chilling sounds of the night to let you know the evil deed has been done. I heard the owl scream and the crickets cry (Lady M. A2 sc.2)

It is evident that Macbeth uses the symbolism of night to enhance the instance of evil in the play: Darkness we may even say blackness, broods over this tragedy. It is remarkable that almost all the scenes which once recur to memory take place either at night or in some dark spot. The vision of the dagger, the murder of Duncan, the murder of Banquo, the sleep walking of Lady Macbeth all come in night scenes. (Bradley)

With the murder of Duncan comes un-natural happenings, which is recurring in Shakespearean tragedies: And Duncans horses- a thing most strange and certain- Beauteous and swift, the minions of their race, Turnd wild in nature, broke their stalls, flung out, Contending gainst obedience, as they would make war with mankind. Tis said they eat each other. (A2 sc4) Evil acts and wickedness in the play gives way to confusion and calamity.

Our main character, Macbeth, is apart from other tragic characters, Macbeth is a hero who becomes progressively evil, but his wife begins as an evil force and then becomes overwhelmingly regretful. In the beginning of the play he is war hero, who does not care for fortune, but when the witches gives him the idea of being prevailing over all, you see his concealed pride. In turn that gives flight to the evil that lurks within him.

In Act III, Macbeth is feeling strained, but he still continues on his wicked trek of murder to stay king of Scotland. The killing of Duncan had taken too much out of him, he has too much guilt, and so instead of committing the evil deed against Banquo and his son himself, he hires three murderers. Macbeth considers Banquos suitability as a future king and finds himself coming in as a poor second.

He dwells on the prophecy that Banquo will father a line of kings, while he has a fruitless crown and a barren sceptre which will be wrenched by an unlineal hand, No son of mine succeeding (A3.sc1.)

Macbeth has lost any virtues or goodness after he hires murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance. Banquo was his best friend, but Macbeth has been blinded by ambition, he wants only power now, and he wants to make sure no one stands in his way.

Shakespeare made Macbeths characters transform before the eyes of his audience. Evil ambitions have enveloped them with a blanket of blood and sin. Lady Macbeth goes so far to succeed ambition that she defeminizes herself in Act I. Macbeth realizes that his actions dooms him, he know that if gets away with murder here, he will not getaway with it in the afterlife.

In Act 1. Sc. 7 Macbeth considers the moral implications of killing a good and virtuous king. His only justification is ambition. As chaos swarms around Macbeth he grows more tyrannical, as king. People question his rule, they sense that he is not the rightful king: Angus uses a clothing image to describe Macbeths kingship: his title, hang loose upon him, like a giants robe, Upon a dwarfish thief (A5 sc1.)

At the end of this play Macbeths evil ambition has been replaced with courage. When he finds that the witches apparitions have tricked him. He embraces his fate when he fights Macduff. This is the end of the play, it is where the evil ambitions have vanished, and Scotland now has a rightful king. Malcolm closes the play as the king, making a speech of hope for a new and peaceful Scotland.

In conclusion Shakespeare shows that evilness can bring down the most heroic and strongest of men, by attacking what is weak within them. In this case Macbeths weakness was his self- condemning ambition.

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