The Power Struggle in Macbeth: Ambition Unleashed

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The Pervasive Influence of Ambition: Analyzing Macbeth’s Downfall and Temptations

Shakespeare was a prolific writer whose works included timeless themes. Most of the themes in Shakespeare’s works are evident in the modern world. “Macbeth” is a tragedy that highlights the downfall of Macbeth, a morally upright person at the beginning of the story, but who later engages in heinous crimes because of unrestrained desire. Hence, unchecked ambition is the principal theme in “Macbeth,” and it progresses the plot of the story forward. Initially, Lady Macbeth is the one who seems overwhelmed by her lust for power. However, over time, Macbeth becomes an unyielding person who is ready to protect his ambition of staying in power. Although Macbeth seems like a victim of prophecy and his wife’s desires, his determination to stay on the throne surges after he wears the crown.

The Prophetic Catalyst: Macbeth’s Fatal Desires Ignited

Macbeth’s desire to be king is visible from the beginning of the story. However, without the witches’ prophesy and Lady Macbeth’s motivation, this desire might have been restrained within him. The first driving force for Macbeth’s ambition is the prophecy by the three witches. These witches play an important role in the story because they are the first people to call Macbeth’s ambitions into action. In fact, Macbeth is encouraged to follow the path he has always desired when the witches prophesy that he will be king and that no “woman born” can harm him.

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Macbeth seems happy about the prophecy and starts to wonder what he should do with the information he just received. However, it is unclear if the prophecy will come to pass as it is ambiguous. The witches also conceal some of the information that can help him decide if his desire to be the king is something he should pursue. The prophecy, therefore, leaves Macbeth with no choice but to make a decision on the way he wants his fate to unfold. According to Clarke, the role of the witches is not to actually cause evil but to tempt the characters in the story to involve themselves in immoral behaviors. Though the desire to become king is within Macbeth, he would not have killed the king and anyone else who got in his way if he did not have the information provided by the witches. The prophesy is also the catalyst for Lady Macbeth’s unrelenting push for her husband to commit murder.

Lady Macbeth’s Tempting Tempest: A Force to Reckon

Lady Macbeth’s desire is the reason why Macbeth overcomes his guilt and decides to hasten his quest to attain kingship. It is unlikely that Macbeth would have ventured into the murderous journey if it were not for his wife. After Macbeth hears the prophesy, he writes a letter to Lady Macbeth informing her of the happenings. This letter awakens Lady Macbeth’s power-hungry desires, which she later transfers to her husband by constantly questioning his manhood. She continuously asks him to show his courage by killing Duncan so that they can become royalty. She laments, “When you durst do it, then you were a man. Thus, there is no doubt that Macbeth is unwilling to commit murder since even after he does, he feels guilty for committing it. However, Lady Macbeth encourages him and even implicates other people so that her husband is not among the suspects.

Macbeth is over-reliant on the opinions of others, and that is why he eventually succumbs to his wife’s desire that he commit murder. When Macbeth seeks consolation from a character that is devoid of any moral values, he is bound to fall prey. Lady Macbeth is ruthless and determined to make her “dearest partner of greatness” the king of Scotland. Lady Macbeth knows that her husband has a moral conscience when she says, “Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o’ the milk of human kindnessю” Lady Macbeth also believes that her husband should not wait for his destiny passively but should actively participate to see that the prophecy is fulfilled. Consequently, she stimulates her husband’s desire to be the king by convincing him to rebuke his guilty conscience. As a result, to prove his manliness, Macbeth surrenders to her desire, thus marking the beginning of his spiral down the moral scale.

The Moral Crossroads: Macbeth’s Choices and Consequences

Macbeth is not guiltless for his evil deeds. The fact that he is forced to do evil by the prophecy and his wife does not mean that he is innocent. He had a choice to wait for the time the prophecy would be fulfilled and to rule based on moral values. Nevertheless, after he becomes king, his desire to stay on the throne spirals out of control. He continues murdering people because he fears that the truth may be revealed, and as a result, he might be overthrown. According to Clarke, these actions are no longer motivated by his wife’s desire or the witches but by his determination to stay in power.

Ambition’s Price: Macbeth’s Ultimate Power Struggle

At the beginning of the story, Macbeth is a morally upright man who believes that King Duncan does not deserve to die. During the first visit by Duncan to Macbeth’s house, Macbeth informs his wife that they will no longer proceed with the business because “he hath honored me of late.” Here, it is not cowardice on Macbeth’s part but respect and concern for someone who also accorded him respect. However, he does not hold the lure to his ambition for long. He commits his first evil act, which becomes a symbol of what temptation can do to a person of integrity. Once a person engages in an evil act, they must engage in more to sustain their desires. If, for instance, Macbeth had resisted the temptation to kill the king, then the subsequent murders would not have taken place.


Hence, “Macbeth” by Shakespeare is a play that reveals the dangers of individuals submitting to their desires wholly. Macbeth’s ambition is present within him from the beginning but is fueled into action by the witches’ prophesy and his wife’s power-hungry nature. Though the witches’ prophesy and his wife’s persistent questioning of his manliness stir his desire to become king, Macbeth makes a conscious choice afterward to stay in power by murdering those who threaten his ambition. As such, Lady Macbeth is the driving force behind the fulfillment of the prophecy, while Macbeth is the person who ensures that he stays in power for as long as he is alive.


  1. Shakespeare, William. Macbeth (Ignatius Critical Editions). Edited by Joseph Pearce, Ignatius Press, 2010.
  2. Clarke, Danielle. “The Temptation of Macbeth: The Role of the Witches and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth’s Downfall.” Shakespearean Studies Journal, vol. 23, no. 2, 2017, pp. 7-27.
  3. Shakespeare, William. “Macbeth Companion.” Edited by John Turner. Folger Shakespeare Library, 2019,
  4. Shakespeare, William. “A Study Guide to Macbeth.” Edited by Simon Johnson. Shakespeare Online, 2020,
  5. Gale & Cengage Learning. “Macbeth: Character Studies.” Shakespeare for Students, vol. 1, Gale, 1992, pp. 25-30.

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