Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, written in 1606, clearly portrays the themes of vaulting power and uncontrollable ambition throughout the whole of the play. The use of different forms of power such as physical, psychological and supernatural is clearly evident throughout the play and is displayed through the characters of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and the three witches.
In the opening scene Shakespeare introduces the 3 witches through the use of pathetic fallacy and claims that they are meeting in “thunder lightning or in rain” which automatically sets a theme of the supernatural, mystery and darkness. Neither of them are given names which again links to the theme of secrecy and mystery. The witches are both involved in psychological and supernatural power due to them being guilty of awakening the burning ambition inside Macbeth by feeding his crave for power with prophecies claiming that he will first become thane of Cawdor and eventually King of Scotland. Lady Macbeth also plays a big role in this theme because of her ability to manipulate Macbeth’s decisions by questioning his manhood and claiming that she fears that he is yet “to full o th’ milk of human kindness” which implies that she is doubt and is scared that her husband is unable to complete such a deed as the murder of Duncan and that despite the burning ambition inside him she is still afraid that Macbeth is to weak and vulnerable to complete the task. She then goes on asking ” spirits that tend on mortal thoughts” to “unsex her” and fill her “from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty” and orders them to “Come to my woman’s breasts And take my milk for gall”, suggesting that since milk is a pure white colour which could portray innocence and therefore Lady Macbeth is ordering the evil spirits to take it away from her and replace it with poisonous acid which on the other hand is evil and harm full. Her actions imply that in order to be able to carry out the murdering of Duncan she need to get rid of all her emotions and sympathy and has to put her natural femininity and kindness aside to be able to complete the deed. If her husband fails which once again she is afraid is to kind to carry out the crime.
In Act 1 Sc 5, Macbeth returns from the battle and informs his wife that “Duncan comes here tonight” Lady Macbeth is immediately intrigued and automatically starts manipulating Macbeth through the Explanation of the plan. But Macbeth is immediately repelled from such an idea and tells her that “We will speak further.” automatically showing his loyalty to the King, sympathy and kindness. She then goes on telling him that he should “Look like th’ innocent flower, but be the serpent under’t” which links into the theme of Appearance vs Reality implying that otherwise he could cause an act of suspicion about their plan. In the beginning of Act 1 Sc 4, King Duncan and Malcolm go on talking about a “good and hardy soldier” . Implying that this soldier is the protagonist, Macbeth. Macbeth is a loyal worthy soldier who is devoted to his king. Meaning that Macbeth carries a good reputation and is known to be a good man to the nation. In the opening of Act 1 Sc 6 the scene starts of with Duncan and Banquo admiring the beautiful weather, environment and the castle itself when later on Lady Macbeth enters by welcoming the King to her home and praising him with compliments by saying that “Your majesty loads our house. For those of old, and the late dignities heaped up to them, we rest your hermits.” And by claiming that this, is “In every point twice done and then done double, Were poor and single business to contend” meaning that even if they were to double their actions towards Duncan and what they have done for him it would be nothing compared to what he has done for their family. This portrays an act of manipulation and deceit due to Lady Macbeth acting so innocent while on the other hand planning to murder him. Psychological power is then further emphasized in Act 1 Scene 7 is where Macbeth performs his soliloquy talking about the plan of murdering Duncan. He shows great amount of inner conflict doubting and questioning every single thought that comes to mind due to his loyalty to the king and his kindness and vulnerability but is still unable to resist the vaulting ambition inside him. He is therefore still under the influence and manipulation by both the three witches who are guilty to have awakened Macbeth’s ambition by giving him prophecies of eventually becoming King and feeding his hunger for power and Lady Macbeth which uses manipulative techniques such as sympathy in order to make Macbeth feel sorry for her a most important of all questioning manhood. In some theories she is also known to be the fourth witch due to not having a name and due to the calling of spirits and removing her femininity in Act 1 Scene 5 . In Act 1 Scene 7, she then further manipulates Macbeth throughout claiming that “What beast was’t, then, That made you break this enterprise to me?” blaming and accusing him as if all this was his idea. She goes on about talking about ” How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me.” And through sympathy then claims that “I would, while it was smiling in my face have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you have done to this.” the verb “dashed” links to violence and aggression which portrays Lady Macbeth’s desperate want of power. Through this she is suggesting that she would’ve even go as far as harming her own child if she would’ve sworn to completing such a deed but then failed to actually carry it out.
Psychological power is then further portrayed in Act 2 Sc 1 where Macbeth is hallucinating, asking himself if this is “a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.” which could metaphorically show him as trying and wanting to reach out for his victory when in fact it is all just a vision. This then also emphasizes the ambition inside him and the psychological power of the Witches and Lady Macbeth influencing his mind and behaviour. Physical Power is then shown when he finally gains courage to commit the murder and completes the deed.
In Act 2 Sc 2 Macbeth loses control and starts regretting his actions claiming that ” I’ll go no more, I am afraid to think what I have done; Look on ‘t again I dare not.” which clearly portrays the guilt and his fragile mindset Lady Macbeth warned herself about even though “what’s done cannot be undone” he freezes and Lady Macbeth is left to clean up the mess and wash of the daggers of Duncan’s blood. Later on through Act 2 the theme of innocence is portrayed by both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth through the act of shock and surprise when Macduff announces Duncan’s death.
The Physical Power and Power of ambition is later on shown in Act 3, Sc 1 where Macbeth orders two murderers to kill Banquo and his son Fleance due to thinking that they are a threat to him and his position and claiming that “Whose execution takes your enemy off, grapples you to the heart and love of us, who wear our health but sickly in his life, which in his death were perfect” suggesting that Banquo and Fleance are both in his way and therefore must be removed. By doing so he is free of people who can overtake his position and replace him. And that way he is able to secure his position as being King. But therefore In Act 2 Sc 4 Macbeth learns that Banquo’s son, Fleance, has escaped the murderers and fled into a safe country, this causes his overwhelmed and fear again. In Act 2 Sc 2 Macbeth starts Hallucinating about Banquo’s ghost which could suggest that he is suddenly being overwhelmed by guilt of his deeds. But Lady Macbeth defends him and covers his actions up by simply claiming that he is unwell. In Act 5 Sc 1 the theme of guilt is further shown through Lady Macbeth’s acts of sleepwalking and trying to wash of the non existing blood on her hands. And further on In Act 5 Sc 5 Lady Macbeth takes her own life due to not being able to handle the guilt of killing Duncan.
In Act 5 Sc 7 Macbeth hears that Macduff is plotting revenge for Duncan’s death but as a warning Macbeth goes as far as killing all of Macduff’s family. Yet Macbeth still being unable to resist his hunger for power is doing whatever is necessary to destroy all opposition to his power, and is trying his absolute hardest to stay in control of his own destiny.
In the last scene Act 5 Sc 8 Macbeth, who is still not willing to give up refuses to kneel and “kiss the ground in front of Malcolm” because he still has too much pride to do so. He also claims that “thou opposed, being of no woman born Yet I will try the last. ” suggesting that he believes that Macduff is weak due to not being born naturally and therefore he will fight with him till the end. Macbeth dies and Malcolm, Banquo’s son is proclaimed to be the new King of Scotland and everything is then returned into natural order.
In the end ambition and hunger for power proves out to be Macbeth’s biggest flaw and the main reason for his defeat. Throughout the play the theme of power shifts dramatically from the very beginning seeming as if it was Macbeth’s main key to success and becoming king and eventually ending up as being his biggest flaw.