Going Above the Edge in Macbeth
The king’s position is an honorable title desired by many. Before a king, subjects must humble themselves and know their place, so they do not overstep the boundaries between themselves and the king. Dedicated to King James I, William Shakespeare constructs a play that reminds people of their role as subjects. In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare warns the audience of over ambition, and reveals how aiming too high is beyond man’s power. Through Macbeth’s character and the symbolism of blood, Shakespeare demonstrates how a virtuous man could become corrupt by his overambitious thoughts to control fate which ultimately lead to his own demise instead.
In the beginning, Macbeth has patience because he is loyal, but when he grows impatient and attempts to control fate, fate remains unchanged. When the witches first give him the prophecy, Macbeth is horrified because he knows his place as the king’s subject. Though Macbeth assumes he must kill Duncan to fulfill the last prophecy, he “yields to that suggestion/Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair/And make my seated heart knock at my ribs” and decides to let fate play itself out (I.III.147-149). As Duncan’s most worthy follower, betrayal for the crown is too treacherous; therefore, loyalty keeps Macbeth from murdering Duncan immediately. Macbeth still has morals, takes caution, and understands that killing the king means treason. Although Macbeth wishes to remain loyal, the thought of obtaining the highest position tempts him. The throne is his fate, but Macbeth still wonders if he should take action or not. Weighing the pros and cons of killing Duncan, Macbeth questions whether his ambition is worth the price. Macbeth is aware that, “we still have judgment here, that we but teach/Bloody instructions, which, being taught, return/To plague th’ inventor” (I.VII.8-10). The bloody instructions represent murdering the king; thus, Macbeth knows karma will punish him. Still, Macbeth rids Duncan and forces his fate to occur immediately.
Over time, Macbeth loses patience, and his ego grows. With false security, Macbeth assumes his position as king is secure, and Hecate predicts how “he shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear/His hopes ‘bove wisdom, grace, and fear” (III.V.29-31). Murdering Duncan gave Macbeth the throne quickly, which leads Macbeth to think that he can control fate and get what he wants. While Macbeth forgets the crimes and punishments, he only thinks of the benefits. He compromises with his morals for greed which makes him despicable. Eventually, Macbeth learns that taking matters into his own hands to shape his destiny is meaningless. With his efforts wasted, Macbeth describes how controlling fate “is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing” (V.V.29-31). Macbeth’s downfall still comes true. All effort to prevent the end of his reign only solidifies his fate. Through Macbeth’s useless attempts, Shakespeare demonstrates how impatience rushes the cautious mind into acting ruthless when man tries shaping his own fate. However, fate will not change no matter how ambitious a person may be. Fate is not within his control. Though Macbeth plans his actions to alter his fate, he has no power over fate and receives hatred and death as punishment.
Moreover, uncontrolled ambition creates false hope which deceives Macbeth into pursuing his selfish desires through murders; thus, his morals get destroyed. Although Macbeth is reluctant to receive the throne through murder, Lady Macbeth convinces him to act more ambitious. Preparing himself, Macbeth agrees to kill his own kin as he convinces himself saying, “I go, and it is done. The bell invites me” (II.I.75). Macbeth’s hesitation changes into determination instead. With the plan set, Macbeth gets motivated by the thought that the sooner he takes action, the sooner he can obtain the most respectable position: king. The caution and loyalty from earlier is forgotten. On the other hand, though Macbeth loses his moral character and hides the truth, he cannot forget the murder, and the memories haunt him. Like the dagger, Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost and realizes, “I am in blood/Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,/Returning were as tedious as go o’er” (III.IV.168-170). Caught up in his own guilt, Macbeth must tell one lie after another to cover up his crime. He knows every murder he commits buries him deeper into evil. Though his sins increase, ambition is the only motivation that persuades Macbeth to maintain his reign instead of confessing. Soon, Macbeth’s arrogance builds, and he ignores his cruel actions and focuses on keeping the throne. When he thinks he can get away with his crimes, Hecate states that “security/Is mortals’ chiefest enemy” (III.V.32-33). Overconfidence hardens his feelings, and Macbeth no longer feels guilty. Ignoring the depth of his sins, Macbeth’s ego makes him feel secure, so he disregards the fate he deserves. As a result, Macbeth becomes hateful and treacherous gaining enemies who overthrow him. Through Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s death, Shakespeare shows readers how pursuing overambitious goals will make a person unprepared for the cost. People can forget their morals and the negative consequences while they aim to achieve their desires. Since ambition increases a person’s ego and motivation, he can continue acting sinful without awareness. The change happens slowly, so people adapt to evil and consider cruelty as part of human nature. Macbeth’s over ambitious goals destroy his honest character as he grows arrogant and accepts his actions as natural; thus, he meets his end unprepared.
Consequently, Macbeth forgets his position as his ego builds, and through Macbeth’s useless attempt to control fate, Shakespeare shows how unrestrained ambition can cause a man’s own demise. Man has limitations on what he can control, and fate is beyond that power. Still, people give into temptations and become willing to change for their desires. Even the most loyal subject is vulnerable, so he too is a threat. In order to protect the king, Shakespeare reminds the audience of their position as subjects and insists that they cannot escape the consequences of growing overconfident.
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