Ambition & Power Quotes in Macbeth Video

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  • 0:01 What Is Ambition?
  • 1:06 Macbeth and the Witches
  • 2:59 Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Karen Harker

Karen has taught high school English and has a master's degree in Shakespearean Studies

This lesson will uncover main quotes surrounding the themes of ambition and power in Shakespeare's 'Macbeth,' exploring how Macbeth's personal ambition is affected by the witches and Lady Macbeth.

What Is Ambition?

Ambition is a personal desire or intention to achieve greatness or success. Doesn't sound so bad, does it? After all, some of the most successful people in our world are driven by ambition. Think of the president of the United States, top CEOs of major corporations, and leading scientists working to cure chronic illnesses. All of these people have something in common: a desire to succeed, achieve, and conquer insurmountable obstacles in order to accomplish something great.

But what happens when a person is blinded by his own ambitions? What happens when his personal desires to succeed overtake their abilities to determine right from wrong? What happens when yearning for greatness leads to the corruption of self?

Shakespeare's Macbeth explores these questions and takes us on a journey that shows how ambition can cause the downfall of an individual. From the very start of the play, we see that Macbeth's ambition is goaded by his relationships with the witches and Lady Macbeth.

Macbeth and the Witches

In Act 1, scene 2, we first hear of Macbeth from the Captain, who reports that Macbeth has killed the rebel Macdonald on the battlefield. He is regarded as a valorous warrior. However, we first hear Macbeth's own thoughts in the following scene, where he and his friend Banquo encounter the three witches.

The witches predict that Macbeth will be Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and eventually King of Scotland. Sure enough, shortly after the witches vanish, Macbeth is named Thane of Cawdor but because of his bravery in battle, not because the witches predicted it. However, their predictions spark Macbeth's already existing personal ambitions, and in an aside, a set of lines in a play meant to be heard by the audience but not by other characters on stage, Macbeth ponders what these predictions might mean:

This supernatural soliciting
Cannot be ill, cannot be good. If ill,
Why hath it given me earnest of success,
Commencing in a truth? I am Thane of Cawdor.
If good, why do I yield to that suggestion,
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings

Here, Macbeth revels that the witches' prophecies bring a suggestion to his mind: the idea that he should murder King Duncan so that he will be able to take his place as king. He states the very thought of murdering Duncan 'unfix(es) his hair' and makes his 'heart knock at (his) ribs,' admitting that he is more afraid of his thoughts than he is of reality.

Most importantly, this quote reveals Macbeth's over-ambition and what he is willing to do in order to be king. It also shows how easily Macbeth is influenced by the witches' predictions, and how a mere suggestion that he will be king immediately takes him to a place where he is plotting to kill in order to achieve his goal.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth

Shakespeare's witches are not the only characters who help push Macbeth's natural ambitions over the edge. His wife, Lady Macbeth, possesses a similar desire for Macbeth to become king. In a letter, Macbeth shares the witches' predictions with her, calling her 'my dearest partner of greatness.'

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