Guilt and Ambition in Shakespeare's Macbeth Essay

853 Words4 Pages
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the title character Macbeth and his wife are both exceptionally ambitious, often taking rather radical measures to accomplish their goals. While this ruthless drive to power is seemingly prosperous at first, it quickly crumbles to naught as guilt infects their minds with grim consequences to follow. Macbeth transforms from a noble general to a guilt-ridden and despaired murderer, while Lady Macbeth’s usually stoic and masculine persona deteriorates into a pitiful and anxious shell of her former self. The feeling of remorse quickly plagues the two characters and overpowers ambition through manifesting itself through nightmares, ghosts, and paranoia, and ultimately leads to their demise.

Macbeth, initially a
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Macbeth immediately addresses the ghost by saying, “Thou canst not say I did it: never shake/ Thy gory locks on me”, thus attempting to convince the apparition that he is not to blame for this murder and therefore not guilty (3.4.63-64). At the same time, the purpose of this remark is defeated because if he was not guilty, there would be no need to explain anything to the ghost. A deadly combination of ambition and guilt poisons both Macbeth and his wife and leads to their deaths in the end. Ruined by her desire for power, Lady Macbeth’s descent into madness is more vivid and guilt seems to affect her more than her husband, even though he is responsible for more crimes. Her request to the spirits to “unsex [her] here,/ And fill [her], from the crown to the toe, top-full/ Of direst cruelty!” is contrasted as the more guilty she feels, the more weak and sensitive she become, a polar opposite of her usual masculine and bold self (1.5.44-46). As a result, she is unable to cope with the guilt and meets her ultimate demise by taking her life. This has an immediate effect on Macbeth: the almost always apparent tension of ambition and guilt disappears. He does not seem interested in living and is ready to face death in a manner more relatable to his former self rather than the murderer he has become. Moreover, Macbeth’s final remark is “Arm, arm, and out!”,

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