How is the theme of ambition shown and articulated through the use of language in Shakespeare's play "Macbeth"?

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare artfully uses language to reveal his characters, their flaws, their dependence and their ambitions in Macbeth. The witches use language that is contradictory and confusing so that Macbeth, a seemingly noble and courageous soldier, will be reduced to a "bloodier villain." (V.viii.7) The audience is prepared for Macbeth's downfall through dramatic scenes (and soliloquies) that reveal that he will stop at nothing in the pursuit of his ambition to be king and he will not be beaten "Till Birnam Forest come to Dunswaine." (V.iii.60)

When the audience first meets Macbeth, he has been victorious in battle and will be rewarded by Duncan. The audience is impressed with Macbeth who recognizes his own "vaulting ambition" (I.vii.27) and fights it deciding that "we will proceed no further in this business."(32)There is a crucial turning point here as Macbeth is soon reduced to nothing more that his wife's inferior as he would be "so much more the man" (51) if he kills Duncan. Lady Macbeth's words are harsh and effective and Macbeth is "settled." The language used is what creates the tension and sets the scene for what will follow. 

Lady Macbeth's decline will be emphasized through Shakespeare's language use as she will no longer be relevant in deciding Macbeth's future. He intends to secure that for himself. Lady Macbeth knows she has been instrumental in Macbeth securing his position as king and just as her words previously reduced Macbeth to nothing in Act I, scene vii, now her words reveal her own helplessness:"What, will these hands ne'ver be clean...! Here's the smell of blood still." (V.i. 174). This is significant as her own ambition is getting further out of her reach.

As Macbeth dies and good triumphs over evil, it is fitting to remember a quote from Act I.iv 7-8 as the former Thane has been executed due to his treason: "Nothing in his life
became him like the leaving it." He was not forgiven for his crimes, despite his repentance and Macbeth's ambition will render a similar fate for anyone who crosses him.