Unchecked Ambition in ‘Macbeth’ and ‘The Last King of Scotland’

Hao 11F William Shakespeare’s play ‘Macbeth’ and Kevin Macdonald’s film ‘The Last King of Scotland’ both highlight the destructive nature of ambition when it is not guided by its moral constraints. Both the play and film demonstrate that making decisions based off a person’s desire will only bring consequences and there will never be a positive outcome. Shakespeare condemns those who obtains power through unlawful means, similarly Macdonald supports the perception that power stolen from its rightful owner is only temporary as going against your morals for desires will only result in the downfall yourself. Shakespeare however suggest that one can redeem themselves by paying for your sin through death, while Macdonald paint a less superstitious outcome of strong willed individuals who attempt to turn their lives around through the redemption of their wrong doings.

Shakespeare and Macdonald both illustrate the vicious nature of unconstrained desires through the downfall of those that consciously throw away their morals in order to advance their position. Both texts depicts ambition as sweetly tempting and that succumbing to temptation is only natural for individuals that desire power. Lady Macbeth is portrayed as cruel and ruthless, with her begging the spirits to “unsex [her] here” signifying her determination in her quest for power, ultimately leading to her hallucinating ‘blood’ on her hands. Shakespeare’s portrayal of her nightmare leading to her suicide resonates with the destructive outcomes from obtaining power through illegitimate means. Similarly, Macdonald’s depiction of Nicholas Garrigan as naïve highlights his incompetent trait which ultimately leads him down a decline resulted from his neglect of morals in the face of power. He is presented as childlike and like a “monkey with blood on his hands”, which questions his sense of humanity for his actions and deemed unable to make humane decisions. This degrades Garrigan as a person with capacity to help others from his standing in society, breaking his “doctor’s oath” and instead causes the deaths of many others. At the end both Garrigan and Lady Macbeth are presented with a chance to excuse their wrongdoings, Macdonald provides Garrigan with an opportunity to return to his doctor status in life through saving a child soldier from poison, presenting a more morally personal redemption through standing up for what is ethically correct. However Lady Macbeth is not able to overcome her guilt and ultimately pays for it through her suicide, showing another realistic outcome of changing oneself. This way both texts shows the contrasting effects from disregarding your morals and making decisions based on your guilty conscience.

‘Macbeth’ and ‘The Last King of Scotland’ demonstrate the discipline and downfall of one’s character resulted from the desire for power, ultimately throwing away one’s morals in order to advance their positions. Shakespeare uses his tragic hero Macbeth to explore the challenges he faces when keeping his power. “Brave” Macbeth was shown to be a war hero and nobleman from his courage on the battlefield, making him “deserve[ing] of that name”, but it is not until Macbeth’s temptation to power results in his unchecked ambitions roam free. His once honorable self is integrated with his tyrannical side, which only gets progressively worse after the killing of King Duncan. His act of regicide spiralled his decline further and his regime built from his violent ways comes to an abrupting end through his death executed by Macduff. Shakespeare’s portrayal of Macbeth’s defeat suggests that anyone who goes against the natural order of life will pay for their wrongdoings with their life. Similarly, ‘The Last King of Scotland’s’ antagonist Idi Amin is at first shown to be a supreme and a benevolent ruler for him to only degrade into a madman. Once he obtains power by illegitimate means he loses trust in the Ugandan population and quickly betrays his initially noble intents by massacring a group of innocent people due to his paranoia of thinking of everyone is “coming after [him]”. Macdonald directs Amin into “meet[ing] violence with violence,” but however gets exposed for it, suggesting that no matter how bleak the situation might be violence will not be a well accepted resolution. Shakespeare and Macdonald portrays their characters capable of changing for the worse resulted from their unchecked ambitions that their morals would suggest otherwise.

Both texts explore how corrupted intents unreserved by moral constraints can have devastating consequences, depicting a grim outcome of greedy kings whose ill intentions end up destructive to those around them. Macbeth’s position obtained through regicide reflects his determination to discard all morally driven emotions and become king. His tyranny causes his noblemen to flee from his rule, highlighting the distrust and disloyalty enhanced from self-serving leadership fueled by personal wants. Similarly, Macdonald uses Amin to demonstrate how self-motivated leadership can bring about the decline of a nation. Amin’s rebel towards Obote’s regime was expected to bring a peaceful resolution to people’s lives, however the once uncorrupted nobleman who promised that his “soldiers eat before [he does]” turns to an insecure dictator whose paranoia resulted in the death of well-intentioned Jonah Wasswa who genuinely wanted to save his nation from being terrorised, the opposite of Amin. He perceives Garrigan’s betrayal as a naive insult, suggesting that “[he is not] a game”, indicating that Amin knew about Garrigan’s impurities, thus painting him as smart and cunning. This is a direct contrast to Macbeth whose self-driven decisions suggest that he doesn’t follow a definite route which leads him and his regime to an abrupting decline.

Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ and Macdonald’s ‘The Last King of Scotland’ both show the ruinous nature of unchecked and unquestioned ambition. Both texts challenges different but similar consequences of acquiring power that belongs to someone else with ‘Macbeth’ showing a more grim outcome while ‘The Last King of Scotland’ conveys a more modern approach to redemption. Ultimately, ‘Macbeth’ portrays a more negative message with the potential for one to redeem themselves from their actions by paying with their life.