Ambition is described by Merriam-Webster as “something that a person hopes to do or achieve,” and as “a particular goal or aim.” In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, you could say that ambition is what drives the story and what causes a series of events to occur that could lead to that ambition being found. The goal in the play is for Macbeth to become king, but whose ambition is more at play, Macbeth’s or his wife’s?
Lady Macbeth senses her husband’s drive to become the king, which is why she orchestrates the murder of Duncan, the current king, so that Macbeth can take the throne and rule. Despite his lust for the throne, Macbeth doesn’t possess enough drive to do what needs to be done to attain the title. That’s why Lady Macbeth takes over and helps carry out the murder of Duncan as a way to help her husband achieve his ultimate goal.
While Lady Macbeth doesn’t murder Duncan entirely on her own, her ambition to see him dead and Macbeth take over the crown, causes her to screw up her courage and unleash everything evil inside her so that she can get the job done. You could say that without Lady Macbeth, the murder would never have taken place and Macbeth would never have gotten him out of the way.
Macbeth has the ambition and the drive to be the king, but unlike his wife, he doesn’t possess the same level of motivation because he doesn’t want to kill Duncan to get the throne. However, Lady Macbeth’s ambition overrides his as she convinces him to murder the current king and get him off the throne and out of the way of his own rule.
Once Lady Macbeth begins cajoling Macbeth into carrying out the murder, his ambition to please his wife and preserve his manhood takes over and he agrees to do the dirty deed. When Lady Macbeth criticizes her husband and calls him less of a man and accuses him of not loving her, his ambition rockets upward and he wants to prove that he isn’t any of the horrible things that Lady Macbeth is accusing him of being.
Where does the ambition come from in the story? It’s no secret that both Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth want Duncan out of the way, but where did the idea come from? The witches that Macbeth makes contact with at the beginning of the story influence his ultimate desire to take over the throne as the new king. Before Macbeth met with the three witches, it’s questionable as to whether he really considered being the king at all. The influence of the witches may have introduced the idea into Macbeth’s psyche and give him the ambition to take over the kingship.
You would think that the overarching ambition was getting the throne by getting rid of Duncan. While that does drive Macbeth to behave the way he does and carry out the murder plot devised by his wife, it’s not the biggest reason he does it. Instead of being ambitious for the crown, Macbeth becomes even more ambitious to prove his wife wrong and show her that he does love her, that he is a man and that he can murder Duncan and take over the throne. That smaller ambition has bigger ramifications in the overall story than does the lust for the kingship.
In the end, the murder of Duncan comes from three sources. One is Macbeth’s ambition, one is Lady Macbeth’s influence and her secondary ambition, and the third is the witches and their prophesy that started Macbeth thinking about being the king. Could there be a story without ambition? Not likely.