The undeniable power of unbridled ambition and its ramifications are extensively portrayed within William Shakespeare’s tragedy; Macbeth. Within this play, ambition is portrayed as a corrupting and unquenchable force through the main concepts of mental imbalance, supernatural behaviors and betrayal. The consuming desires of Macbeth and their repercussions are vividly enhanced through the use of various expressive literary techniques. Ultimately, Macbeth is a play that explores and reiterates the tragic and pestilent nature of unreasoned aspirations.
Within the play, supernatural forces are a common occurrence and often transpire into woeful and tragic happenings, acting as a warning to viewers. Throughout various scenes, the prophecies of the witches are quickly unraveled before the audience and are a violent driving force for the tragedies that take place. “Fair is foul, and foul is fair”, chant the witches in the opening scene, utilizing a paradox that reverses the syntactic structure and symbolizes a reversal of the logical order as well as a break in logical reason and morals. This foreshadows the succumbing of a heroic character to the temptations of power and status. Furthermore, the impacts of unnatural evils are again echoed through Macbeth’s imagination, a factor which comes back to torture him throughout his life. In Macbeth’s famous soliloquy he murmurs, “Is this a dagger which I see before me/a dagger of the mind, a false creation”. Within this eerie and ominous scene, Macbeth uses metaphorical imagery to express the inner conflict which he is experiencing as a result of his heinous intentions. From this quote, we also notice the inner demons that reside within Macbeth’s mind, that have caused him to become delirious and blind to the death ridden path that eventually ends in the deaths of scores and eventually himself. Ultimately, supernatural forces are a pivotal element within the drama which truly show the dangers associated with unbridled and unreasoned ambition.
A central concept that shapes the intricate moral lessons in Macbeth is that of betrayal and its futile and impermanent nature. Though Macbeth is reluctant at first to commit the most evil of deeds, murder, he is wholly convinced by Lady Macbeth, a driving force of betrayal within the play. Lady Macbeth utters “Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’/ like the poor cat i’ the adage?” The willingness of Lady Macbeth to reach the epitome of betrayal is displayed through the use of a simile that heightens our understanding of the overpowering and strong nature of Lady Macbeth as well as her deep and murderous desires she wishes to impose on her husband. From this, viewers are exposed to the persuasive and emotive techniques Lady Macbeth utilizes to manipulate and drive Macbeth to commit the treasonous act. Moreover, the dangers associated to the pursuit of an unrestrained dream and the hollowness of power are again reiterated by Lady Macbeth; “Look like thy innocent flower but be the serpent under it. Through the use of metaphorical imagery, Lady Macbeth’s untamed ambition transpires into evil as the dream of being royalty proves too tempting to ignore. Lady Macbeth encourages Macbeth to hide his true immoral intentions of killing the king, and refers to the biblical story of Eden when referring to the serpent, a rather ironic connection for a sinful act. By comparing Macbeth to a serpent, viewers are exposed to the sinister and sly nature of his behavior and his lust for power, regardless of the price. Ultimately, Macbeth’s willingness to betray and deceit highlights the unquenchable nature of ambition and cautions viewers of the ultimate price of aspiration fueled trickery; a humiliating life and death.
Throughout the entirety of the drama, the guilt and mental ramifications of deceit, murder and evil deeds are continuously restated and act as a warning to viewers of the jeopardies of untamed desires. After the treasonous act of killing the king, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth pay a great mental toll as the noxious nature of their acts catch up to them. Macbeth murmurs,” Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood/clean from my hand?” This reiterates the dominate motif of blood, to symbolize the stain of guilt which has tainted and scarred Macbeth emotionally and mentally. This motif also reflects the agonizing regret which Macbeth feels directly after the treacherous act that disrupts the natural balance of power in this strongly catholic context. Furthermore, the implications of wild ambition and of committing a major sinful deed are again magnified; “Macbeth does murder sleep, the innocent sleep, sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleeve of care”. In the process of Macbeth’s downward spiral into insanity after his murderous deed, Macbeth is tortured by his actions through his restless state of mind and this has been shown through the motif of sleep. This demonstrates to the viewer, nature’s enforcement of justice, especially in this strongly catholic context. From this we can derive that through Macbeth’s woes, viewers are cautioned of the implications of unrealistic, unreasoned and deceitful power and ambition.
Within William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the detrimental ramifications which transpire from unreasoned ambition are thoroughly discussed and are used as warning to viewers. Throughout the drama the forces of supernatural evils and their effect on rational reason, the futility and pointlessness of betrayal and the mental impact of upsetting the natural order are reiterated. These are vividly portrayed through the use of various literary techniques such as irony, metaphors and symbolism. Consequently, Macbeth is an ancient play about the dangers of untamed ambition that still carries its warnings to this day.
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