How do greed and inordinate ambition lead to great human tragedy in "Macbeth"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In his poem "The Road Not Taken," Robert Frost reflects that "way leads to way."  How true this relection is for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.  Macbeth seems to sense the impending consequences of his future actions in his monologue of the first act: 

If it were done, when 'tis done, then 'twere well...that this blow /Might be the be-all and the end-all--here(I,vii,1-5)

It is his deep desire for power and advancement that drives Macbeth to kill Duncan against his better judgment. Macbeth is tortured by guilt and paranoia. In his premeditations about vaulting amibition in the soliloquy of Act II, scene I, Macbeth sees a dagger, "A dagger of the mind" and the offerings of Hecate, the Goddess of Chaos.  After his bloody deed, Macbeth tells his wife that he thinks he has heard a voice cry "Sleep no more!"(II.ii.34).

Guilt-ridden, Macbeth does not sleep, yet "way leads unto way" and he commits more murders in order to further his quest for power.  Lady Macbeth, who at first repressed her conscience, unsexing and dehumanizing herself, urges Macbeth her husband to be strong, is herself  eventually driven to insanity by the effect of Macbeth's repeated bloodshed. She loses her ability to repress her conscience when Macbeth leaves to fight McDuff, then assuming the manifestations of guilt formerly associated with Macbeth:  insomnia and hallucinations: "Out damned spot!" (V,i,36) 

Tragically, Lady Macbeth's guilt leads to insanity and suicide; Macbeth's inordinate ambition and subsequent guilt lead to his being slain as predicted by the witches.