In Act 1, scene 5 of William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, Lady Macbeth meditates on a letter she has just received from her husband. In this letter, he tells her of good fortune that has recently come his way – fortune than has confirmed prophecies he has received from witches. Lady Macbeth is glad of her husband’s new status and positions, but she worries that her husband is not ambitious enough to want to take definite steps to become king – another bit of good fortune apparently promised by the witches:
Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be
What thou art promised: yet do I fear thy nature;
It is too full o' the milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way: thou wouldst be great;
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it: what thou wouldst highly,
That wouldst thou holily; wouldst not play false,
And yet wouldst wrongly win . . .
Two good thesis statements might be derived from this passage. The statements might involve the following kinds of arguments:
- that although women were often expected during Shakespeare’s time to be modest, humble, and obedient, Lady Macbeth is actually one of the most explicitly and relentlessly ambitious of all the characters Shakespeare created. She is a woman who defies the stereotypes of her culture, which assumed that most women were (or should be) unambitious.
- that Shakespeare makes it clear that although the witches have prophesied Macbeth’s rise in status and power, their prophecy does not predetermine that rise. In other words, Macbeth has the free will that would make it possible to behave virtuously, whatever the witches have predicted.