The tragic flaw of Shakespeare s Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is ambition. Throughout the play ambition drives both characters to commit heinous acts. Their ambition also causes a change in their appearances, physically and mentally. Ambition turns Lady Macbeth from a ruthless, power hungry woman into a woman tortured by her own conscience. Ambition turns Macbeth, a loyal Anglo-Saxon warrior, into a man possessed by an overwhelming lust for power. This causes an inner struggle that nearly tears Macbeth apart. When Macbeth finally resolves this he is no longer concerned with morals and loyalty. Macbeth becomes an amoral man concerned only with himself. These physical and mental changes which are brought apon by ambition destroy both the lives of Macbeth and his wife.In Shakespeare s Macbeth, Mabeth is at first a soldier loyal to his king, Duncan. He has little ambition. Macbeth s ambition becomes more evident after his first meeting with the three evil sisters. The witches give Macbeth three prophecies: All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, thane of Glamis!All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter! (I iii ll 48-50) Soon thereafter, a messenger comes and tells Macbeth; The King hath happily received, Macbeth, The news of thy success…We are sent to give thee from our royal master thanks;…he bade me…call thee thane of Cawdor. (I iii ll 89-104) Up until this point Macbeth has never even thought of changing his position in life. He is content with being the thane of Glamis and all having all the duties that come with it. Bloom wrote that there is no sign of Macbeth s dangerous ambition until after his first interview with the witches. (Bloom pg 117) Up until Macbeth steps into that charmed circle he has no visible ambition. But, as Bloom said, it did begin to appear slowly, but surely, sneaking up and taking Macbeth by surprise. This supernatural soliciting…given me earnest of success…If good, why do I yield to that suggestion whose horrid image doth unfix my hair And make my seated heart knock at my ribs…murder yet is but fantastical…and nothing is but what is not. (I iii ll 127-140) It is at this point when Macbeth begins his slow transformation into an amoral man. But it is clear that at this point Macbeth is still apprehencious about what is to come. He cannot believe the witches prophecies will ever come true, but they are. Macbeth has mixed feelings about his possible future. This is when he begins to feel the strain of knowing ones own future. If chance will have me king…without my stir, (I iii l 142) Macbeth says, which shows he would welcome it if he does nothing. When Duncan makes Malcolm Prince of Cumberland, Macbeth sees a problem with the witches prophecy. In an aside Macbeth says; The Prince of Cumberland! that is a step On which I must fall down, or else o erleap, for in my way it lies. Stars, hide your fires; Let not light see my black and deep desires; The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be which the eye fears, when it is done, to see. (I iv ll 48-53) This reveals the deep desire that Macbeth has for becoming king. He starts thinking about the possible murder of Malcolm and Duncan, the two men who stand in his path to the crown. Lady Macbeth is the foil of Macbeth. Lady Macbeth s power as a female temptress allies her…with the witches. (SFS pg 285) Unlike Macbeth, Lady Macbeth s ambition is clearly visible from her first entrance. Her discovery that Macbeth is the thane of Cawdor, along with her knowledge of the witches, sends her into a frenzy. Lady Macbeth s true evilness is shown when she learns of Duncan s visit to her castle. The raven himself is hoarse. That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements. 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! (I v ll 34-40) Lady Macbeth shows the audience her true and evil self. At this point, she is the one in control of Macbeth. Macbeth is absolutely against the murder of Duncan. We will proceed no further in this business. He hath honored me of late; and I have bought Golden opinions from all sorts of people which would be worn now in the newst gloss, Not cast aside so soon. (I vii ll 31-35) Lady Macbeth breaks her husbands will and she is able to influence him to cast aside his morals and loyalty. She turns her noble husband into a cold blooded killer. She is more concerned with power than Macbeth is. Lady Macbeth challenges Macbeth s manhood in order to convince him to commit the murders. Lady Macbeth shows her strength and fearless nature when the murder of Duncan takes place. She takes total control of the situation. O never shall sun that morrow see…Look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under t. He that s coming Must be provided for; and you shall put This night s great business into my dispatch… (I v ll 56-64) Lady Macbeth acts as a man should, strong, in control, and feels no pressure under the crushing circumstances. Even though she tries, she still cannot break Macbeth. Macbeth, after murdering Duncan, looses his wits and regains his conscience. He refuses to complete the act. Once again, Lady Macbeth assumes the dominant position and completes the task. Her ambition is all for him, and she stands by his side, doing violence to her own nature until it breaks under the strain. (Bloom pg 120) Lady Macbeth also keeps Macbeth in line after the murder by telling him how to handle the situation the next morning. …Had I but died an hour before this chance, I had liv d a blessedtime; for, from this instant, There s nothing serious in morality–All is but toys; renown and grace is dead… (II ii 91-96) Even though she appears strong, Lady Macbeth is not as strong as she seems. After everything is done, and the morning comes, Lady Macbeth faints under the pressure. At this point, a gap begins to form between the once loyal companions. Also, a side of Lady Macbeth never seen before is shown. Her faint…occurs when the crisis has come, has been met, and is over. Macbeth is now doing very well. She is not needed anymore, and she gives way to the strain. (Bloom pg 121)
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This is the first time in the play that Lady Macbeth looses her composure and succumbs to the overwhelming pressure of the situation. With the hardest part of the task done, Lady Macbeth feels that her job is done and Macbeth begins to move into the forefront. Bloom says that in the 5 stages of submission to temptation which the divines recognize, reception, enticement, consent, commission, and habit, the fatal dividing line comes with consent, with the formation of purpose..And it is at this point that Macbeth s resistance is overcome, and overcome by Lady Macbeth. (pg 119) The point of recognition comes when Macbeth meets the witches. The words of the evil sisters that tell of power and wealth entice both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. The consent comes after Lady Macbeth forces Macbeth to murder Duncan. And later on, Macbeth makes killing a habit. The crime of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth brings separation between them, gradually, fatally, finally. (Bloom pg 120) Once Macbeth consents to murdering Duncan, he takes his first step on his path towards destruction and away from his wife.As the play goes on, Macbeth becomes more and more obsessed with his quest for power. And on his quest, he leaves behind the woman who started his journey. Macbeth begins to loose his sense of morals and loyalty, and takes on an entire new personality. Macbeth becomes paranoid, threatened by his dearest friends. Our fears in Banquo Stick deep; an in his royalty of nature Reigns that which would be feared…There is none but he Whoses being I do fear. (III I 49-56) Macbeth is obsessed by the witches words and is sure to follow their advise lest he loose his power. So, after remembering the words of the witches, he makes a fateful decision, the murder of Banquo. It is concluded. Banquo, thy soul s flight, If it find heaven, must find it out tonight. (III I ll 141-142) At last, Macbeth has abandoned his former self and becomes the man he tried so hard not to be. He disregards his former friends so he may achieve his goals.Now that Macbeth is independent of his wife, he becomes out of control. He keeps his own council for the manner and time of the slayingof Banquo and Fleance…she is at arms s length…the decision is hisalone, and he is no longer under her guidance and tutelage. (Bloom pg 120-121) All of his friends become his enemy. This once proud soldier becomes a scoundrel. Macbeth is a shell of his previous self. He is no longer concerned with morals and loyalty, he has completed his transition into an amoral man. Macbeth solely relies on the advise of the witches towards the end of the play. When Macbeth learns of the danger Macduff poses towards him, he has his entire family murdered. Time, thou anticipatest my dread exploits…give to the edge o the sward His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls That trace him in his line…This deed I ll do before this purpose cool. (IV I ll 144-154) Along with those murders, Macbeth turns on one of his old friends, Young Seward, and murders him also. Macbeth, who once was totally devoted to his wife and was will to do anything for her, becomes totally alienated and callous towards her. When Seyta informs Macbeth that Lady Macbeth has committed suicide, he says She should have died hereafter; There would have been a time for such a word. (V v ll 16-18) Macbeth is immersed so deep in the problems he himself created does not even care whether is wife is dead or alive. All he cares about is himself. This is a complete change from the man he once was, and never can be again. And in the end, ambition and a false sense of security instilled by the witches kills him. Macbeth is not the only one who changes. Lady Macbeth undergoes and extraordinary change of her own. The once ruthless woman concerned with nothing but Macbeth and herself begins to gain the morals that Macbeth has lost. Lady Macbeth knows that what her husband is doing is wrong, and tries to warn Lady Macduff about her assassination. But it is too late for Lady Macbeth to save herself. Lady Macbeth begins to sleep walk, tortured by her conscience. She is terrified of the one thing that used to offer her complete protection, darkness. While she sleepwalks, he begins to show how she is tortured by what she has done. Out, damned spot! out, I say!–One; two. Why, then tis time to do t.–Hell is murky! Fie, my lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we fear who knows it, when none can call our power to account?–Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?…will these hands ne er be clean?…Here s the smell of the blood still… (V ii ll 28-39) Lady Macbeth finally breaks down. Since Macbeth has no need for her now, she will never be needed again. (Bloom pg 121) This exclusion in spirit from Macbeth is a profound cause of her sleepwalking. (Bloom pg 122) And in this sleepwalking, Lady Macbeth reveals the truth about the murder of Duncan. All the weight of the world comes down on her shoulders, and she is alone to deal with it. The abandonment by Macbeth drives her to commit suicide. This once strong and fearless woman becomes so afraid of life and what her husband has become, she takes her own life to escape what she created.Bloom said that we have an instance of a very extraordinary change.. He is exhibited to us valiant, dutifull…mild, gentle…but ambitious without guilt…Soon after…All the principles in his constitution seem to have gone under a violent and total change. (pg 8) Ambition is demonstrated to do many things, most importantly it can cause a violent change in a person. But, ambition is unpredictable, as shown in Shakespeare s Macbeth. Ambition turns out to be the catalyst for self-destruction in the lives of two people who are both the same and different all at the same time. A change so drastic as what took place in the lives of the Macbeths can only be caused by a force as powerful as ambition. BIBLIOGRAPHY Bloom, Harold. Major Literary Characters–MACBETH. New York: *-Chelsa House Publishers, 1991. Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. New York: Random House Publishing Incorporated, 1997. Scott, Mark W. ed. Shakespeare for Students. Detroit: Gale Research Incorporated, 1992.