Macbeth Ambition Quotes

The motor that drives the tragedy of Macbeth is the lead character’s ambition. It is his primary character flaw and the personality trait that enables this brave soldier to murder his way to take the throne.

In this article, we will pick out the key quotes from the play that highlight his growing ambition and capacity for evil.

“Brave Macbeth”

When we meet Macbeth at the start of the play, he is brave, honourable and moral ...

qualities that he soon sheds as the play develops.

We meet him soon after battle, where a injured soldier reports Macbeth’s heroic deeds, and famously labels him “brave Macbeth”:

For brave Macbeth — well he deserves that name — 
Disdaining Fortune, with his brandish'd steel, 
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valour's minion carved out his passage 
Till he faced the slave.
(Act One, Scene Two)

He is a presented as a man of action who dares to step up when needed, and a man of kindness and love when away from the battlefield.

His wife, Lady Macbeth, dotes on his loving nature:

Yet I do fear thy nature; 
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness,
To catch the nearest way. 
(Act One, Scene Five)


“Vaulting Ambition”

An encounter with the three witches changes everything. Their premonition that Macbeth “shalt be king hereafter,” triggers his ambition – with murderous consequences.

Macbeth seems clear that it is ambition that drives his actions, saying as early as Act One that his sense of ambition is “vaulting”:

I have no spur / To prick the sides of my intent, but only / Vaulting ambition.
(Act One, Scene Seven)

When Macbeth makes plans to murder King Duncan, his moral code is still evident – it is just “vaulted” by his ambition. In this quote, we can really see Macbeth struggling with the evil he is about to commit:

My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, 
Shakes so my single state of man that function 
Is smother'd in surmise.
(Act One, Scene Three)

And again, later in the same scene, he says:

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?
(Act One, Scene Three)

But, as we discovered at the beginning of the play, Macbeth is a man of action; and this supersedes his moral conscience.

It is this trait that enables his ambitious desires.

As his character develops throughout the play, “action” eclipses his “morals” more and more. With each murder, his moral conscience is suppressed, and he never struggles with the subsequent murders as much as he did with Duncan. 

For example, he kills Lady Macduff and her children without hesitation. 


Macbeth’s Guilt

But Shakespeare does not let Macbeth get off too lightly! Before long, the character is plagued with guilt: he starts hallucinating, he sees the ghost of murdered Banquo, and he hears voices:

"Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more! 
Macbeth does murder sleep.'" 
(Act Two, Scene One)

This quote reflects the fact that Macbeth murdered Duncan in his sleep. The voices are nothing more than Macbeth’s moral conscience seeping though, no longer able to be suppressed.

 

He also hallucinates the murder weapons, creating one of the play’s most famous quotes:

Is this a dagger which I see before me, 
The handle toward my hand?

(Act Two, Scene One)

Right at the end, we catch a glimpse of the brave soldier we saw at the beginning of the play. In one of Shakespeare’s most beautiful speeches, Macbeth knows that he is short of time. The armies have amassed outside the castle and there is no way he can win ... but he does what any man of action would do: fight!

In this speech, Macbeth realises that time ticks on regardless and his acts will be lost to time:

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. 
(Act Five, Scene Five)