Last Updated 03 Jan 2023

Analysis of Lady Macbeth and the Theme of Ambition in Macbeth by William Shakespeare

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Ambition may be the secret to a successful life, or the secret to its end. If that is the case, where is the line drawn between ambition being the silent motivator and ambition being the silent killer? Aspirations are essential in life, they force an individual to strive for success and consistently refine their skills. If one does not have any goals for the future, they float through life, never accomplishing anything to be proud of. For some people, these goals may give them a purpose by being the motivation to get out of bed each morning. Some desires may even make an individual a better person by forcing them to have courage or personally develop. It is completely healthy to pursue goals, but it becomes unhealthy once the longing for success becomes an obsession rather than a passion.

An obsession may drive people to perform acts they would not normally do in order to achieve a goal they have been yearning for. In "Macbeth", Shakespeare uses Lady Macbeth's ambition to prove that strong desires overshadow morals, damage relationships, and consume an individual to the point of self-destruction.

First of all, ambition has the ability to cloud morals and become the sole priority. Before Lady Macbeth had been consumed with the hunger to help her husband become king, she was a woman who stayed true to her morals. Not only did she have a husband whom she loved dearly, but Lady Macbeth was also a well-respected member of royalty. It is clear the woman had a pure heart because she mentioned her desire to be "unsexed" and filled "from the crown to the toe topful of direst cruelty!" (I.v.38-43) This implies that Lady Macbeth had a moral sense, and did not have what it took to perform a dishonorable act. Her wish to be filled with "direst cruelty" strongly suggests that she was not a wicked individual because if she was, she would not be praying for a change in character.

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Eventually, the desire for her husband to be crowned king won the battle against her moral compass. Lady Macbeth wanted so badly to see her husband get what she believed he deserved, she was willing to do anything, even if it meant killing an innocent man. As this fantasy grew, her morals shrunk, gradually becoming obscured by her thirst for success. It was tough for Lady Macbeth to think sensibly, which caused her to act out aggressively, oftentimes insulting and belittling her husband to get what she so badly wanted. Lady Macbeth would mentally manipulate her husband by uttering shrewd comments such as "Wouldst thou have that Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life, And live a coward in thine own esteem, Letting “I dare not" wait upon "I would ..." (I.vii.41-44) Lady Macbeth was solely concerned with power and not the repercussions of her actions. She was completely single-minded, and lost all judgment of right from wrong which made it easier for her to help commit a merciless homicide.

Secondly, ambition is capable of spoiling relationships. When ambition becomes an obsession rather than a passion, (otherwise) meaningful and valued relationships may be given a back seat. Lady Macbeth prioritized her craving for success more than she did her relationship with her husband, Macbeth. She spent more time scheming than she did loving him, and in return hindered their relationship by weakening the trust between the two of them. In the end, Lady Macbeth unfortunately realized this was not what she wanted, and began to feel culpability rather than the original, short-lived pleasure and satisfaction, hence "Naught's had, all's spent, Where our desire is got without content. 'Tis safer to be that which we destroy Than by destruction dwell in doubtful joy." (III.ii.6-9)

Once the high had worn off, Lady Macbeth was left with a relationship that would never quite be the same. After experiencing a heavily traumatic event, the couple would surely have some problems to sort through, specifically guilt. Although Lady Macbeth felt guilty for forcing her husband into a situation he wanted no part of, she could not put her pride aside and admit she had been wrong. This made it difficult for the couple to talk through their problems, which in turn, created tension and a toxic environment to sort through the guilt. Ambition created an unfixable issue between Lady Macbeth and the one she loved most.

Lastly, fierce ambition can lead to failure. Lady Macbeth's guilt caused by the crime she had committed literally killed her. After trying to live with the guilt, she made the decision to end her life because she felt as though death was better than the life she had created for herself. Her fierce ambition to kill King Duncan had originally clouded her morals, and once those clouds had cleared, she began suffering from inescapable feelings. Ambition had been a trap, silently dragging Lady Macbeth towards her end. It had jaws so tight she had no choice but to give in to her strong urges and feed the monster that had surrounded her. Once that monster abandoned her, she was left with wounds so deep and pain so sharp, Lady Macbeth had no choice but to escape it all by the only way she knew, death.

To conclude, ambition is a powerful feeling that has plenty of potential when placed in the hands of the right person. Determination is a great quality to possess, and can oftentimes take partial credit for the success of an individual. However, if one is not capable of keeping a level head when experiencing subconscious pressures, they may pose a threat to themselves and others. Ambition can be the innocent angel on one's shoulder, but quickly turn sour if given too much attention. Fierce desires have the ability to alter one's moral compass, cause strain on relationships, and lead an individual to their own destruction. If ambition is not controlled, it will slowly destroy an individual's sanity.

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