The Tragedy of Macbeth Ambition by William Shakespeare

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Morality is defined as principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior. There are objective and subjective accounts of morality which differ from each person. Objective morality includes universally known principles that are not up for analysis and are widely accepted. Subjective morality depends on the person and what they choose to believe about morals. 

In The Tragedy of Macbeth by William Shakespeare, morality is a debatable topic that deals with character personalities and decisions made in the play which ultimately determine if justice is served. In the case of this play, objective and subjective morality play an important role because there is an overall right and wrong behavior, and a subjective morality that fluctuates between characters, especially Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in particular. Macbeth is a moral play in which justice for Macbeth and his wife is ultimately served, but the basis of the play is extremely immoral due to the corrupted conscience of the main characters and their subjective morality.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth commit their foul deeds which are driven by Lady Macbeth’s excessive ambition to make her husband King of Scotland. She decides that the murder of King Duncan will make her husband King, not knowing the ripple affect that will follow. Lady Macbeth ignores her conscience and proceeds to convince her husband that it is okay to murder the King. This proves her inclining corruption of morality, which will soon befall her husband. To convince her husband of following through with their plan she says, “ Art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour As thou are in desire?” (1.7.39-41). 

This is a tempting verse that is dependant on Lady Macbeth’s subjective morality that it is okay to murder the King to achieve what they want. Success and greatness cannot be gained when one’s conscience is dominating. Macbeth sees a bloody dagger in his vision which is pointed towards the King. This foreshadows his bloody journey that is still yet to come. His conscience is bothering him and haunting him before he commits his first act of murder. After Duncan is murdered, their consciences kick in and immediately they feel guilt, but for Macbeth this is not long lived. Lady Macbeth says, “These deeds must not be thought After these ways; so, it will make us mad” (2.2.45-46). This foreshadows her going mad from guilt, because of dwelling on what they had done. This is the beginning of a long journey towards the ultimate downfall of both characters.

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The uncontrollable desire for power took over Macbeth’s good conscience and he gets rid of any morality left. He is willing to do whatever he needs to in order to obtain his rulership and keep it. This is seen through his reckless murder of his friends and their families. Macbeth says “For mine own good All causes shall give away. I am in blood stepp’d in so far that, should I wade no more” (3.4.134-135). This shows how ruthless he is, and how he is in too deep to stop his acts. After the murder of Banquo, his friend, Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost during his banquet. 

He orders the ghost to “avaunt, and quit my sight! Let the earth hide thee. Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold. Thou hast no speculation in those eyes Which thou dost glare with!” (3.4.97-100). This is his guilt that is overwhelming, and proves his inner conflict at this time. He is extremely distressed and tells his guests to leave. This is an example of his detrimental conscience which won’t let him be at peace because of his actions. On the outside, Macbeth seems ruthless, but on the inside, he is troubled by his deeds and it is affecting him.

Macbeth’s final act of murder is his ultimate immoral deed, and ensures his lack of morals at this point in the play. He orders Macduff to be murdered, and when he finds out that he is not in town, he proceeds with the ordered killing of Macduff's entire family. This proves to be an extreme low for Macbeth and this time, he is remorseless. Rosse informs Macduff of what happened, “ Your castle is surpris’d; your wife, and babes, Savagely slaughter’d. 

To relate the manner, Were on the quarry of these murder’d deer To add the death of you” (4.3.204-207). This shows the absolute vaulting ambition of Macbeth to kill anyone for his goal. When Macbeth hears of his wifes’ suicide, his reaction is minimal, “she should of died here after” (5.5.17). Lady Macbeth killed herself out of immense guilt for her husband's actions and Macbeth is immune to it. This shows the level of corruption and immorality that has befallen Macbeth, where his previous standards are broken. Macduff brings the end of the play to justice by killing Macbeth, so him and his wife have come to their proper end.

As individual characters, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth progressed as distinct levels of moralities throughout the play, and wrestled with their consciences greatly. Macbeth’s tragic flaw of greed dominates his once worthy morals as a noble subject. His unchecked ambition became corrupted the minute that he commited his first murder, and only increased in evil. Lady Macbeth started with ambition for her husband which progressed into a soul wrenching guilt for her crimes. This is a good example of her objective morals returning, but Macbeth lost anything he had after his greed overtook him. 

This play should be considered moral when the characters feel guilty after a bad deed is done. After they cease to feel remorse, it is then immoral because without a guilty conscience, they are tyrannical. The downfall and death of Macbeth is completed when he gets what he deserves for his acts of murder, treason, and betrayal, especially as a trusted subject of the former King. Macbeth was ruined through his excessive, greedy, and ruthless ambition for power. Moral truth is not defined by any certain character or person, but instead by the authority of natural law. The Tragedy of Macbeth is truly a tragedy that begins with the high moral status of Macbeth and ends with his fall from grace into absolute immorality due to serious error in judgement and unchecked ambition.   

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