The Cause of Macbeth’s Ruin
A discussion of Macbeth’s obssesive desire for power as the cause of his downfall.
The Cause of Macbeth’s Ruin The specific root of Macbeth’s ruin is his uncontrollable ambition. His desires take control of his actions and this becomes his tragic flaw. It prevents him from becoming aware of when to stop; he is never fully satisfied as his desire for power grows. Macbeth’s judgment is impaired since he only accepts ideas that will benefit him in obtaining his wants.
He also becomes self centered and loses his feeling towards others as a result of his need for fulfillment. All these points in Macbeth’s character are caused by his ambition which seems to have no boundaries. It grows more abundant as his role in William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth , progresses. Macbeth’s desire for power becomes an obsessive trait for him. It prevents him from realizing when to stop; he is never fully satisfied and always demands more.
In Macbeth’s first meeting with the witches he is told that he is to be the Thane of Cawdor and king. Soon after he was told these prophesies he already becomes eager to learn more; his eagerness is shown when he tells the witches, “Stay you imperfect speakers, tell me more” (Act.1,Sc.3,Ln.70). Later in the same scene Ross, a Scottish noble, presents Macbeth with the title Thane of Cawdor and here he realized that the prophesies are true. The veracity of these prophesies disturb Macbeth because at this point he is already filled with the notion of being king and murder as the way of attaining that title. Macbeth even asks himself; “why do I yield to that suggestion, whose horrid image doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs” (Act.1, Sc.3,Ln.134-136). This quotation shows that the thought of murder is not intentional because he questions his own imagination, but caused by Macbeth’s natural desires and ambition which he cannot control. Already he dismisses the fact that he has become Thane and his hopes and desires are on becoming king. Macbeth knows that these desires are evil, “Let not light see my black and deep desires”(Act.1,Sc.4,Ln.51), nevertheless they continue due to his vaulty ambition that he has no control over. Eventually with the help of Lady Macbeth’s influence – whose character in the beginning of the play is dominant and overbearing – murders Duncan and becomes king. As king Macbeth does not feel satisfied with his thrown because along side of the witches predictions of Macbeth’s titles, Banquo was said to be the father of many kings. Macbeth feels that “To be thus is nothing, But to be safely thus”(Act.3,Sc.1,Ln.48-49). This means that to be king as he is now means nothing to him because he is not secure on his throne. Macbeth feels insecure because he has a “fruitless crown, and … a barren sceptre in [his] gripe,”(Act.3,Sc.1,Ln.61-62). He does not have any son to succeed him and feels that every king should or else their reign is deemed as insignificant. In order to solve this problem Macbeth has Banquo and his son Fleance murdered, so that Banquo’s line will never become kings. His death is an example of Macbeth’s uncontrollable ambitions because Banquo went from being one of Macbeth’s close companions to an enemy all in the name of power. The death of Macduff’s family is another prime example of Macbeth’s uncontrollable desires. In Macbeth’s second meeting with the witches he is told to beware of Macduff by the apparition. Up to this point Macbeth is suspicious of Macduff. He feels that he is plotting against him and has a “servant fee’d”(Act.3,Sc.4,Ln.132) in the home of Macduff as a spy. After finding out from the apparitions that Macduff will be indeed a real threat, Macbeth has his whole family brutally slaughtered. The aimless death of Macduff’s family proves that Macbeth fears Macduff and thinks that the death of his loved ones will show his powers and thus deter Macduff’s intentions towards Macbeth. Their deaths gave him an extra sense of security. Macbeth’s constant dissatisfaction is caused by his hungry ambition that grows throughout the play. This contributes to his ruin because in order to obtain all that he wants – power and security – he sends a wave terror through Scotland which upsets it’s people. In the end he is defeated by those that he did wrong. Macduff gets his revenge for Macbeth’s actions and Malcolm claims his rightful place as king. Macbeth’s ambition has blinded him of the reality around him. His ambition made him see and think in a way that would have him achieve it, without taking into consideration other possibilities and apparent dangers. This is ideally seen in Macbeth’s involvement with the witches. When the witches presented the three apparitions to Macbeth, they showed them in such a way that Macbeth would misinterpret them. This was done intentionally on the witches part because it is their role to create disorder and evil; they use Macbeth as a vessel for the evil being done. However if Macbeth’s ambition did not run wild he would have been able to sense this and would not have taken the three apparitions at face value. His ambition being the way it is blinded his senses and made him fail to see the truth. For example, the first apparition was an armed head telling him to beware of Macduff. Macbeth took this as a warning when in reality the armed head belonged to Macbeth and was severed by Macduff. The second apparition was a bloody child claiming that “none of woman born Shall harm Macbeth” (Act.4,Sc.1,Ln.79-80). Instead of realizing that the bloody child was the result of a cesarean section Macbeth thought it meant that nothing human can harm him and this made him feel invincible. In reality however Macduff was that child who “was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped” (Act.5,Sc.8,Ln.16-17) and in the end kills Macbeth. The third apparition was a child crowned with a tree in his hand who proclaimed that “Macbeth shall never vanquished be, until Great Birnam wood to Dunsinane hill shall come against him.” (Act.4,Sc.1,Ln.92-94). Macbeth believed this prophesy was in his favour since it is impossible for a forest to reach Dunsinane hill in his lifetime. Unfortunately for Macbeth it did when Malcolm’s infantry arrived at his castle. Malcolm commanded each soldier to take a bough of wood from Birnam and use it as camouflage on approach to Dunsinane hill making it look as if the forest were approaching the castle. The crowned child obviously represented Malcolm who came to gain his rightful claim to the thrown as the son of Duncan. This inability to tell appearance apart from reality ruins Macbeth because his judgments are wrong. Macbeth’ s uncontrollable ambition contributes to his self involvement because he thinks only of himself and of personal gain. This in the end of the play makes him become cruel and insensitive. His self involvement is clearly seen as his relationship with his wife grows distant. In the beginning of the play Lady Macbeth receives a letter that shows Macbeth’s feelings towards her. The purpose of the letter was to inform Lady Macbeth of the witches prophesies so that she can think about it and offer her advice upon his arrival, “Lay it to thy heart”(Act.1,Sc.5,Ln.11-12) he states in the letter. The fact that Macbeth seeks his wife’s advice in such a situation shows that his relationship with her is close and that her influence is important to him. When the time comes to murder Duncan, Macbeth’s doubts are put to rest by Lady Macbeth’s influence. “Art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour as thou art in desire?” (Act.1,Sc.7,Ln.39-41), Lady Macbeth asks Macbeth. She questions if he is afraid to equal his bravery with his desires which implies that he has not enough courage to do the deed of becoming king. Her condescending taunts which insult his manhood and reassurance build up his courage. During the murder Lady Macbeth’s help was of great importance; she sedated the guards, returned the bloody daggers, washed the blood off of her husband and gave him optimism. If it was not for Lady Macbeth’s care Macbeth would have made a failure of the murder. As the play progresses Macbeth becomes isolated from his wife and she is concerned, “How now my lord? Why do you keep alone,” (Act.3,Sc.2,Ln.9). This isolation shows that his relationship with his wife is becoming distant. The murder of Banquo further exemplifies this fact. His decision to do away with him was done without consulting Lady Macbeth and tells her, “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck,” (Act.3,Sc.2,Ln.45), when he refers to the matter in front her. Towards the end of the play when she dies he is insensitive to her death and is concentrated at the matter at hand which is his battle with Malcolm. He believes that she should have died at a more suitable time and that “There would have been a time for such a word.” (Act.5,Sc.5,Ln.18). Macbeth’s callousness in this situation shows that he has lost feelings towards people; this loss of feeling towards others shows that his only concerns are for himself. Banquo’s death was due to this loss of emotion as well. Macbeth went from being his close friend to having him killed for the sake of knowing that his descendants won’t succeed Macbeth’s throne. His insensitivity towards others is due to his self involvement. This is one of the factors that cause his demise because everyone who respected him has abandoned him: Duncan, his wife, Banquo and even the other nobles. Macbeth in the end however realizes this, “My way of life Is fallen into the sear, the yellow leaf; And that which should accompany old age, As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have;” (Act.5,Sc.3,Ln.22-26). He became self involved because he was only concentrated on fulfilling his own ambitions rather than performing his role as a king. Macbeth’s ruin is a result of his tragic flaw which is his “vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself” (Act.1,Sc.7,Ln.27). It made him not realize that his desire for power became an obsessive trait; because of it he was never fully satisfied with the power that he had. This made him go on murdering after the first murder which crowned him king. In the end he became a tyrant and his own people lead him to his death. Macbeth’s view of reality became distorted. He saw things in such a way that were in his favour only. This impaired his judgment which in turn lead him to take the wrong decisions. The wrong decisions that he made resulted in his defeat and unsightly death. Through Macbeth’s constant need to fulfill his ambition he became very involved with himself and failed to take other people into consideration. This made him lose his feelings towards people especially those that cared for him most. In the end this loss of emotion left him abandoned and it lead to his spiritual ruin. These traits that Macbeth developed throughout the play are due to the fact that he could not gain control of his ambition that grew more grand with time and lead to his fall.
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