Human power and ambition can be one of the most dangerous things in the world when used incorrectly. Each and every person has the potential to turn crazed for this power, which is exemplified in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Michael Mack, an English professor, notes that this Shakespearean piece of literature offers insight on human nature, especially through the main character, Macbeth. His ambition, whether it was for good reasons or bad, can be seen as a universal human trait.
Within the first act, Macbeth was seen as a hero, yet as the act moves on, he changes based on the prophecy that the witches have told him. Originally, he stated that this oracle brings both good and bad omens until he contemplates within this particular line:
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
Against the use of nature? (Shakespeare 1.3.134–37)
Even just this thought makes him turn for the worse, where his ambition to make this prophecy come true comes to fruition. It sparks the beginning of twisted ambition, which is prominent when he kills King Duncan in Act II. Similarly, this can also happen to us in modern times; it’s just the thought -just thinking about it- is what begins this ambition. Life has become a daily competition for many things; to get a scholarship for an elite school, a higher position for a job, and amongst other situations. Then, as humans, one would do anything and everything to make it happen.
Later on, as the play progresses, his ambition takes a more aggressive turn, making him more tyrannical and forceful to keep his title of king. Drastic measures, such as murder, are the result of one’s ambition gone rouge, prominent in Macbeth’s change of attitude. For instance, when Macbeth says, “Seize upon Fife, give to th’ edge o’ th’ sword / His wife, his babes, and all unfortunate souls” (Shakespeare 4.1.151–52), he decides to act on impulse, which may have been a result of his ambition to remain king. Knowledge turns to power, which turns into ambition, finally turning into desire, which is exemplified in Macbeth. Due to the fact that he learned his fate early on, he was able to make choices to fulfill his prophecy, but that took a turn for the worse, especially in this scene. Humans take drastic measures when things don’t go their way, even resulting in murder. One might take out their opponent to ensure their way into what it is they’re aiming for, even though they know it’s morally wrong.
Human ambition is one of the most dangerous things in the world, which is prominent throughout all of Macbeth. As shown in the way Macbeth acts, he loses all reasoning and acts based on instincts. How Macbeth acts can also correlate with how we could act when human ambition takes over human senses, similar to what Michael Mack addresses in his speech, “Why Read Shakespeare?”. He mentions the idea that if society doesn’t see themselves reflected in Macbeth’s personality, they are misreading Macbeth or themselves, which is true. If human society can’t see themselves reflected in Macbeth, then society as a whole is incapable of understanding themselves. This holds true in most cases, because society tends to put up a facade to make others like them. Whether it’s changing their personality to changing their physical appearance, no one would really be able to understand a person because of that facade. Due to the fact that humans desire for everyone to like them, to the point they would have to create a fake persona to achieve it, it forces them to not see what is right in front of them, because their eyes are clouded with ambition to reach that goal.
Overall, Shakespeare’s Macbeth provides major insight to the human trait of ambition. All sorts of ambition, whether good or bad, have consequences that come back to haunt us. Macbeth’s ambition was the cause of his downfall, which can be seen within modern society as well. Whether it’s a competition for that one job promotion, or just between friends, one’s desire for anything is the driving force of society, proven through Shakespeare’s drama, Macbeth.
- Shakespeare, William. “The Tragedy of Macbeth” California Collections, Houghton Mifflin
- Harcourt, 2017, pp. 213-289.
- Mack, Michael. “Why Read Shakespeare?” California Collections, Houghton Mifflin
- Harcourt, 2017, pp. 203-207.