Macbeth Summary: Selfish Ambitions

1194 words (5 pages) Essay in Philosophy

30/05/17 Philosophy Reference this

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The play begins with the brief appearance by three witches and then moves to a military camp where the Scottish King Duncan hears news about his generals, Macbeth and Banquo. The witches prophesy that Macbeth will be made thane of Cawdor and eventually King of Scotland. They also prophesy that Macbeth’s companion Banquo will beget a line of Scottish kings, although Banquo will never be king himself. While Duncan is asleep, Macbeth stabs him. When Duncan’s death is discovered the next morning, Macbeth kills the chamberlains and easily assumes the kingship. Macbeth hires a group of murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance.

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They ambush Banquo, but they fail to kill Fleance, who escapes. At a feast that night a ghost visits Macbeth. Macbeth goes to see the witches they show him a sequence of demons and spirits who present him with further prophecies: Macbeth is relieved by the prophecies given to him. Prince Malcolm, Duncan’s son, has succeeded in raising an army in England, and Macduff joins him as he rides to Scotland to challenge Macbeth’s forces. Before Macbeth’s opponents arrive, Macbeth receives news that Lady Macbeth has killed herself. When Macbeth learns that the English army is advancing on Dunsinane shielded with boughs cut from Birnam Wood, fulfilling half of the witches’ prophecy Macbeth is afraid. On the battlefield, Macbeth encounters the vengeful Macduff, who declares that he was not ‘of woman born’ but was instead ‘untimely ripped’ from his mother’s womb. Though he realizes that he is doomed, Macbeth continues to fight until Macduff kills and beheads him, Malcolm is now the King of Scotland.

Shakespeare utilizes imagery, symbol and hyperbole to expose the consequence of wanton ambition. Macbeth is a play in which the characters provide the reader with gory descriptions of carnage as the result of some sort of ambition. The description of the battle is rich in imagery as it depicts the savageness of war ‘which smoked with bloody execution, Like Valour’s minion carved out his passage Till he faced the slave Which ne’er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him, Till he unseam’d him from the nave to the chaps, And fix’d his head upon our battlements’ (1.2.18-23). This depicts the behavior a brave solider such as Macbeth must execute in order to prove his bravery in the field and his willingness to serve his king in hopes of advancing in rank. The only reason a solider fights is for glory and honor both of which are critical in advancing forward in life. Macbeth only fights because he wants to be prompted to a higher rank, which his relentless determination in battle achieves as he is crowned Thane of Cawdor.

The blood that stains Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are symbols of guilt for committing a murder merely for attaining more power ‘Here’s the smell of the blood still: all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand’ (5.1.43’45) This line by Lady Macbeth is rich in imagery, Shakespeare allows the reader to experience the horror that accompanies murdering someone. The blood’s stench is so strong that not even Arabian scents, which are a luxury, can mask the foul smell of another man’s blood. On a deeper level the blood which is equivalent to the murder has stained her not only her physical body but her soul and no matter what she tries to do she will always be tainted by that act.

Macbeth is a perfect example of this when he has murdered king Duncan and feels that he can do nothing to wipe his hands clean of the blood; ‘Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood / Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather The multitudinous seas in incarnadine, Making the green one red.'(2.2.58’59) Neptune is an allusion to the Roman god of the sea whose waters could not wipe the blood symbolic of the murder, meaning guilt, from Macbeth’s hands. Shakespeare uses hyperbole to captivate the reader’s attention that murder is in reconcilable when done for selfish reasons.

Purpose:

As a well know Satirist, Shakespeare goes to great extent to expound the consequences of harboring unbridled ambition. During this time Britain was divided into three parts, England, Scotland and. As a result of this fractured state Shakespeare witnessed much political turmoil at the hands of ambitious men. Shakespeare shares his disdain towards these temperaments through the story of Macbeth. The results of unchecked ambition are numerous, the betrayal that must take place for you to complete your goal, the guilt that overwhelms you and those close to you when you succumb to that ambition and do anything to fulfill it and the vengeance it erects in those who have been affected by unbridled ambition.

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In an attempt to get rationalize the murder of King Duncan; Macbeth concludes that he has no real reason to kill the king, other than his own ambition to become king. The results of this action demonstrates the dangers of unchecked ambition ‘ I have no spur To prick the sides of my intent, but only Vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself And falls on the other. (1.7).’ The quote is ironic because Macbeth recognizes the dangers of acting on such ambitions and realizes that it will most likely lead to his downfall but he still follows through betraying King Duncan who had just promoted and admired him for his loyalty and honor.

The consequences of fulfilling your selfish ambitions are devastating to your psyche. By committing the murder Macbeth rapidly degenerates from the honorable solider he was, to a deceiving King who is void of any magnanimous qualities. ‘From this instant, There’s nothing serious in mortality: All is but toys: renown and grace is dead; the wine of life is drawn, and the mere lees is left this vault to brag of’ (2.3) this is verbal irony because the other characters in the story believe he is being sincere about the murder but at this moment he is relinquishing himself of any personal qualities that may prevent him from being the cold and aggressive man Lady Macbeth wanted him to become. Further irony presents itself when Lady Macbeth exclaims as she sleepwalks ‘Out, damned spot! out, I say! (5, 1)’ this is an outward manifestation of her inward guilt. After the murder of King Duncan both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth beginning to degenerate, Macbeth becomes a calculating tyrant while Lady Macbeth begins to feel guilt for her role in the deaths of Banquo and Macduff’s family. The degeneration of the human mind is complete when Lady Macbeth commits suicide and Macbeth refuses to retreat despite knowing he is going to die. The downfall of Macbeth was that he allowed his ambition to take control of his life. Macbeth allowed other to influence his desires, like, Lady Macbeth and the witches. His mindset was morphed and because of this he gave into the wants and perceptions of other instead of being true to himself.

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