Quotes in the Play Macbeth that Highlights Theme of Ambition

As was characteristic of Shakespeare, he did not deviate from his tragedy tales with the play Macbeth. With this offering, Shakespeare highlights the dangers associated with uncontrolled ambition. Through the protagonist Macbeth, we see how ambition corrupts even the most pious individuals and the lengths they are willing to go to ensure that their ambitious goals are achieved to the fullest. Here are the quotes that showcase the deep sense of ambition that drives Macbeth to the throne and subsequently to his death.

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At the beginning of the story it is clear that Macbeth is an honorable man that is respected by all his comrades, due to his bravery in the battlefield. He is labelled “brave Macbeth” by an injured soldier for his exploits in the battle that has just ended. Concerning Macbeth, he reports this to King Duncan:

For brave Macbeth, well he deserves that name

Disdaining fortune, with his brandish’d steel,

Which smoked with bloody execution

Like valour’s minion carved out his passage

Till he faced the slave. (Act 1, Scene 2)

When Macbeth and Banquo stumble upon three witches, they are informed that Macbeth will one day be king, while Banquo’s children will also sit on the king’s throne. Macbeth is fascinated by the prospects of being the most powerful man in all of Scotland. He wonders how the throne will come to him. He sees the prospects of doing an evil deed to get it:

My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,

Shakes so my single state of man that function

Is smother’d in surmise. (Act 1, Scene 3)

It is obvious at this point that the witches had stirred something in him. Even though he pesters them to reveal to him more about his ascension to power, they disappear leaving him in a state of suspense. He knows he has to do something bad to get the throne, but he is uncomfortable with the evil thoughts starting to take refuge in his mind:

Why do I yield to that suggestion

Whose horrid images doth unfix my hair,

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,

Against the use of nature? (Act 1, Scene 3)

Although Macbeth’s qualities are revered by everyone, including King Duncan who bestows him the honor of the Thane of Cawdor, his wife is not particularly fond of his kind and morally upright nature and sees it as his weakness. When she comes to learn of the witches’ prophecy concerning her husband, she says:

Yet do I fear thy nature

It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness

To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,

Art not without ambition, but without

The illness should attend it. (Act 1, Scene 5)

Lady Macbeth knows that her husband is unlikely to pursue the crown, despite the witches’ revelations, due to his loyalty to the king. She knows it is up to her to arouse the desire in her husband. When it comes to her attention that King Duncan is about to visit them, she sees this as an opportunity to snatch away the throne. She asks the gods to give her the spirit of masculinity, which is associated with bravery and cruelty to face the upheaval task ahead:

…come, you spirits

That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,

And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full

Of direst cruelty. (Act 1, Scene 5)

Lady Macbeth, who is obviously more ambitious than her husband hatches the plan to execute the king. But, Macbeth is really troubled by this plan, as King Duncan is both a virtuous leader and his kinsman:

…He’s here in double trust:

First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,

Strong both against the deed; then, as his host

Who should against his murderer shut the door,

Not bear the knife myself. (Act 1, Scene 7)

He confesses to his wife that he has no reason to kill the king.  He understands that even on earth, evil deeds often “return / To plague th’inventor”. Angered, Lady Macbeth puts into question his manhood: “When you durst do it, then you were a man.” She even makes a shocking revelation that she would bash her young child, if it stood between them and their plan: “How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me:/ I would, while it was smiling in my face, / Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, / And dash’d the brains out, had I sworn as you have done to this” (Act 1, Scene 6).

Eventually, his wife’s admonitions change his stance. The moral fabric of his wellbeing is overridden by the lust for power from which he claims:

I have no spur

To prick the sides only

Vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself

And falls on the other. (Act 1, Scene 7)

Before he steps in to kill King Duncan, Macbeth has a vision of a dagger with the handle towards him and the blade pointing towards Duncan. Though the dagger vanishes as he tries to grasp it, he sees the vision as an illusion- a distraction to his mission. The urge to kill the king becomes irresistible to him and he acts fast:

Is this a dagger, which I see before me,

The handle towards my hand? Come, let me clutch thee;

I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.

Art though not, fatal vision, sensible

To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but

A dagger of the mind, a false creation,

Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?

I see thee yet, in form as palpable

As this, which I now draw. (Act 2, Scene 1)

Although everything goes according to plan and he will obviously ascend to power, permanent guilt is lurking in his vicinity. The joy of getting the coveted seat does not override his guilt of killing the king, as he had anticipated. He even calls upon the god Neptune to wash away the blood that has now tainted him.

How is’t with me, when every noise appals me?

What hands are here! Ha, they pluck out mine eyes.

Will all great Neptune’s oceans wash this blood

Clean from my hands? No, this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red. (Act 2, Scene 2)

After he completes the evil deed, he confesses that he has tainted both his legacy and soul with the king’s blood:

If I had died, but an hour before this chance

I had lived a blessed time, for, 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. (Act 2, Scene 3)

It becomes apparent that as Macbeth is overcome with guilt, he does not remember to sneak the daggers to the chamberlains to frame them. When her husband refuses to go back and complete what she started, Lady Macbeth goes back for the daggers to frame the chamberlains. The whole plan was hers and she will not let her husband derail her ambitious plan to the throne. She is however disappointed and ashamed of her husband’s cowardice.

He is however not able to conceal his ambitious plans, as Ross- Macduff’s cousin predicts that his determination, albeit abominable will see him claim the throne:

‘Gainst nature still!

Thriftless ambition, that will ravin up

Thine own lives’ means! Then ‘tis most like

The sovereignty will fall upon Macbeth. (Act 2, Scene 4)

He becomes paranoid of everyone around him and does not have anyone to trust except his wife. Although Macbeth is told by the witches that he will hold on to power until the “Great Birnam Wood to Dunsinane Hill” comes to fight him and that “no man of woman born” will be worthy of an opponent to him, he is uncertain of his future lineage, as he views his kingship as a “fruitless crown” based on the witches’ revelations.

He kills his friend, Banquo, after the witches predict that his sons will be kings in the future. He therefore sees Banquo as a threat to his throne. Furthermore, the witches tell him to be wary of Macduff, which Macbeth interprets as a warning- although he does not successfully execute him.

He starts going insane. He begins hallucinating and hearing voices in his head:

Still it cried “Sleep no more!” to all the house:

“Glamis hath murder’d sleep and therefore Cawdor

Shall sleep no more;

Macbeth shall sleep no more.”

He even sees the ghost of Banquo and unable to hide his guilt, he says:

“Avaunt! And quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee!

Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold;

Thou hast no speculation in those eyes,

Which thou dost glare with!”

And as Shakespeare reveals in the end, if left unchecked unbridled ambition leads to no good both for the ambitious fellow and the people around him. Lady Macbeth is the first one to go. She’d rather commit suicide, than live and suffer eternal damnation for her evil deeds. Sad, depressed and surrounded by 10,000 soldiers ready to overthrow him, Macbeth laments:

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day

To the last syllable of recorded time

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty deaths. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing. (Act 5, Scene 5)