How to write a Macbeth ambition essay

If your tutor has asked you to write a Macbeth ambition essay, you may need help. Don’t worry, help is at hand.

Problems with writing a Macbeth ambition essay

The main problem with writing an essay about the ambition of Macbeth, the Thane of Glamis, is that you could argue that Lady Macbeth was more ambitious then her husband, wanting Macbeth to become king, and being prepared to kill for him to achieve that end. However, it is Macbeth who in Act I scene 7, speaks of his ‘Vaulting ambition.’ He recognises that he is ambitious, and it is this ambition that is encouraged by the three weird sisters and, of course, his wife, Lady Macbeth.

In Act 1 scene 4 Macbeth speaks of his ‘black and deep desires’ which are to gain power by any means open to him. It is his overpowering ambition that is the cause of a number of deaths, including that of Duncan, the King. Ultimately it is over-powering ambition that is his, and his wife’s, tragic downfall.

His ambition is fuelled by the three witches (‘the weird sisters) and their prophecy. At the start of the play, Macbeth is seen as a conquering hero, a Scottish general and also Thane of Glamis. As he is returning to his castle with his comrade and friend Banquo across a heath he comes across the witches. They greet him as Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and say that he will be King. Banquo is told that he is ‘lesser than Macbeth’ but the witches go on to say that he is ‘greater’. He will have sons that will be kings.

Macbeth believes the witches prophesies because soon afterwards, Ross and Angus find Macbeth and tell him that the king is waiting to see him, as he has sent them to tell Macbeth that he is now Thane of Cawdor by the king’s command. The witches first prophesy has come true. Duncan, the King, had ordered the Thane of Cawdor executed for treason.

Macbeth is irked when he realises that there is one title that he will not be given, that of Prince of Cumberland. That title was bestowed on Duncan’s son. Macbeth says in a soliloquy in Act 1 scene 4 that this is in his way to become King as the witches prophesied.

Act 1 scene 5 takes place in Macbeth’s castle at Inverness. A messenger arrives to announce to Lady Macbeth that the King will be at Macbeth’s castle that night. She pities herself because she is a woman and so frailer than her husband, but she asks that she be ‘unsexed’ and filled with ‘direst cruelty.’ When Macbeth arrives, she tells him to leave everything up to her. By everything she means the murder of the King and whoever else stands in the way of Macbeth’s becoming King. Clearly, she feels that she is more able to kills Duncan than Macbeth.

Act 1 scene 7 begins with the famous speech by Macbeth, ‘If it were done’ He acknowledges that he should, as his host, defend Duncan with his life, because he is a guest. However, his ‘vaulting ambition’ get the better of him. Macbeth vacillates between wanting Duncan dead and not proceeding ‘in this business.’ However, Lady Macbeth taunts him and makes him pluck up his courage. It seems indeed that she is no longer acting as a woman and mother. She encourages Macbeth to continue with the plan to murder Duncan with her help.

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Act 2 The dagger scene

The dagger scene is one of Shakespeare’s most often quoted soliloquys. Macbeth is walking through the castle on his way to kill Duncan when he has what may have been real or a vision. He sees a dagger in front of him and tries to seize its handle, but that dagger was only an insubstantial vision, leading him to the sleeping King.

Macbeth murders Duncan in a seemingly trance-like state, with his own dagger, not the illusory one.

He goes to his wife and tells her of the strange sounds he has heard. Lady Macbeth said that she would have killed Duncan herself if he had not looked like her father while he slept, but Macbeth explains that he has murdered the king. On his way back to Lady Macbeth, he heard two guests say their prayers, and is a little disturbed that he could not join them in saying ‘Amen’ when they said, ‘God bless us.’ He said that the words had stuck in his throat. At this point then, he feels some guilt.

Macbeth heard a voice that said several things, all prophesying doom for him. These are the words he heard: -

  1. 'Sleep no more!'
  2. ‘Macbeth does murder sleep.’
  3. 'Glamis hath murder'd sleep,’
  4. ‘therefore Cawdor Shall sleep no more.’
  5. ‘Macbeth shall sleep no more.’

In Act 2 scene Macbeth becomes unravelled at the thought of his monstrous deed. Lady Macbeth is made of sterner stuff and tells him to wash his bloody hands and take his bloody daggers to the room the grooms are sleeping in so that he can smear them with Duncan’s blood so that it looks as though they were the murderers. She is calm and in control. Macbeth cannot do as she wants, so it is Lady Macbeth that deals with the daggers, the grooms and the blood.

Lady Macbeth accuses her husband of cowardice, of having a white heart.

Act 2 Scene 3

This scene begins with the porter at the castle gate and loud knocking. The porter is almost a comic character who offers some respite from the drama and tragedy that has unfolded in the two previous scenes. The porter says, ‘this place is too cold for hell’ The porter lets Macduff and Lennox into the castle and explains that he and others in the castle had been ‘carousing’ until the early hours.

On seeing Macbeth, Macduff asks if the king is awake because he had instructed him to call upon him early.

Lennox says that the night had been ‘unruly’ with ‘strange screams of death’ in the air. The owl has been screeching all night and there had been strange prophesies heard concerning ‘dire and confus’d events.’

Mucduff goes to the king’s chamber and sees his body and arouses the rest of the castle. On hearing the news, Macbeth says ‘renown and grace is dead.’ This of course is true of Macbeth who will be shrouded in infamy and condemned to hell. Macbeth then confesses to killing the grooms because he was so angry that they could have killed the king. Treachery indeed!

Act 3

Banquo tells Macbeth in scene two of this act ‘Thou hast it now: king, Cawdor, Glamis, all.’ The witches’ prophesies had all come true. Macbeth is jealous of Banquo who will father kings, while he, Macbeth will not. Macbeth cannot kill his friend Banquo himself and so hires three men to do the deed for him. Although Banquo is killed his son, Fleance escapes, thus meaning that the witches prophesy regarding Banquo could still come true.

From the time of his murder, Banquo’s ghost haunts Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is dismissive of her husband and his sightings of Banquo’s ghost, who really is the spectre at Macbeth’s feast.

Lady Macbeth gets rid of her guests rather unceremoniously and tell them that her husband is becoming unhinged. He decides to seek out the witches again to find out what other things will happen.

Act 4

This begins with a ‘steaming cauldron’ and the witches making a brew with various obnoxious animals so than they can cats their spells.

The second witch senses the presence of evil, and Macbeth appears on stage. It is in this scene that Macbeth is told that he cannot be harmed by a man ‘of woman born’ and cannot be overcome until ‘Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill’ will oppose him. Naturally, Macbeth thinks this can’t happen, after all, trees can’t walk. The witches refuse to answer his question regarding Banquo’s heirs, so Macbeth is left to wonder if they will indeed become kings.

When Lennox appears, the witches vanish, and Macbeth is given the news that Macduff has ‘fled to England’ (Act 4 scene 1).

While Macbeth is near the witches cauldron, three apparitions appear, one after the other. The first tells him to beware of Macduff. The third once gain says that Macbeth is safe until Birnam wood arrives at Dunsinane, Macbeth’s castle.

Malcolm and Macduff speak together and then Ross arrives with the news that Macduff’s family have all been killed and decide to act against Macbeth.

Act 5

This begins with Lady Macbeth sleepwalking and trying to get rid of a spot of blood she imagines to be on her hands. ‘Out damned spot!’ The doctor who had been summoned confesses that he has never seen anything like this before and is at a loss.

Scenes 2 takes place outside Dunsinane castle and scene 3 inside it. Scene 4 is the one in which the soldiers who are loyal to Malcolm cut branches from the trees in Birnam wood and use the as camouflage wile they march on Macbeth’s castle. Macbeth is told that his wife is dead and in scene 5 and almost immediately afterwards he is told that it appears that Birnam wood is moving by a messenger. This, of course, means the death of Macbeth. He is killed by Macduff who was as he says, ‘Untimely ripp'd’ from his mother’s womb, which means that he was not actually born from a woman. Finally, Malcolm becomes king of Scotland, his rightful position.

‘Macbeth’ is generally called ‘The Scottish play’ as actors are superstitious about it. Of course, it is set in Scotland, but in theatrical circles the name ‘Macbeth’ when spoken inside a theatre heralds misfortune. It was said that witches cursed the play because of the incantations it includes.

There are many stories to illustrate the disasters which are attributed to the play’s performances. Actor’s have fallen off different stages, and once Sir Lawrence Olivier, one of the great Shakespearean actors narrowly escaped being hit on the head by a falling stage weight.

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