Macbeth has been read as a "tragedy of ambition." Is this true?Macbeth has been read as a "tragedy of ambition." Is this true?

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Susan Hurn | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Clearly, Macbeth is destroyed by his ambition to become King of Scotland. Once the witches' tempt him with their prophecies, he cannot turn back. After he and Lady Macbeth begin to plan King Duncan's murder, Macbeth tries to stop their conspiracy by telling her they won't discuss it any further, but his resolve does not last very long. He kills Duncan for one reason only: to gain the crown. Macbeth recognizes his own "vaulting ambition," and he knows killing the innocent, defenseless Duncan as he sleeps will be a most horrible act, but he proceeds.

So wherein lies the tragedy? Like Shakespeare's other tragic heroes, Macbeth had lived an honorable life. Before his ambition conquered his conscience, Macbeth had been a brave and loyal soldier, one who had been trusted and admired by King Duncan. Macbeth's tragedy is that he destroys himself because there is a flaw in his character: His ambition is stronger than his morality.

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