I need some ideas for my essay on Macbeth. My thesis is how Macbeth's ambition leads him to his eventual downfall.My thesis is how Macbeth's ambition leads him to his eventual downfall.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As you look through the text (you may want to reread as then you will comprehend more and surely spot the passages you want), you will want to cite passages in the beginning that demonstrate  Macbeth's growing ambition.  Do not forget that the supernatural world certainly tempts him and Lady Macbeth encourages him, but, by his own admition, it is his "vaulting ambition," his tragic flaw, that leads him down his path to tragedy. Perhaps, you may wish to explain how his ambition is Macbeth's tragic flaw.* 

For instance, in Act I, Scene 3, after Macbeth has heard the predictions of the three sisters, he thinks in an aside,

If chance will have me King, why, chance may crown me,

Without my stir. (1.3.155-156)

However, in another aside, Macbeth's predilection for taking the directing hand in matters is indicated in his reflections after he learns that King Duncan has made his son Malcolm the Prince of Cumberland:

The Prince of Cumberland!  That is a step

On which I must fall down, or else o'erleap;

For in my way it lies.  Stars, hide your fires;

Let not light see my black and deep desires:

The eye wink at the hand; yet let that be

Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see. (1.4.55-60)   [your text may differ in lines, so check what lines these are in your book, if a textbook]

In Scene 5 of the first act, after she reads Macbeth's letter, Lady Macbeth "tells" her husband that he has ambition, but does not possess the "illness" [wickedness]  that should accompany it.  So, when he arrives, Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to be "the serpent" under his tongue.  Still, Macbeth wrestles with his decision to murder Duncan and advance the predictions of the witches.  In his soliloquy of Act I, Scene 7, he feels some conflict about killing Duncan; however, he recognizes that his reason for acting, his


To prick the sides of my intent, but only

Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself

And falls on th'other--- (1.8.25-28).

Rereading closely and noting passages as you read will assist you greatly in writing your paper; it is probably faster, too, then trying to hunt for passages. 

*Peruse some criticisms made by professionals by going to JSTOR or ERIC on the virtual library which will assist you in finding critical analyses by competent writers. Often reading these types of articles/essays helps you find points that you can develop, then, on your own. Be sure to acknowledge any information that is not yours, of course.  See the enotes site of criticism below for several interesting articles.


kristenfusaro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The best essays are those that come from within; if you complete your work, you are getting the clearest point across. That being said, your essay is great because it is focusing on some of the major themes found in Macbeth. Some guidance on elaborating on those themes:


  • Fair is foul, and foul is fair.
  • All things that are bad are now good, and all things that are good are now bad. The world of Macbeth is topsy-turvy. Everything is the opposite of the way it should be.
    • Unchecked ambition.
    • The witches’ prophecies outlined for Macbeth drive him to do crimes and have thoughts that he never would have fathomed before. The idea of power overwhelms both he and Lady Macbeth to the point that all they can think about is power. Their desire to achieve higher and higher ranks outbids even their humanity, and they commit such awful deeds without having any “check” from their conscience.
      • The relationship between masculinity and cruelty.
      • The characters in Macbeth often dwell on issues of gender. Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband by questioning his manhood, asking that she be “unsexed,” and does not argue when Macbeth tells her she should only give birth to male children. Macbeth then follows suit by questioning the manhood of the murderers he hires to kill Banquo. Such acts show that both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth equate masculinity with naked aggression, and whenever they converse about manhood, violence soon follows. Their understanding of manhood allows the political order depicted in the play to descend into chaos.
  • Power leads to corruption.
    • The obsession and need for power far surpasses any inkling of human kindness. This overwhelming desire for power continues on a downward spiral, destroying any sense of mercy and humanity in Macbeth. He moves from a man of guilt to a murderous tyrant who will stop at nothing to maintain power.
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is your essay, so the language, research, and wording should be yours.  Regarding websites, I can't see any need to refer to anything but the text. Your thesis appears to be your position (opinion), so you should probably do your own analysis in the text, at least before you go looking anywhere else. 

Macbeth's ambition does lead to his eventual downfall, as you state.  Think about why you believe that.  What does he do to be and stay king which eventually causes him to fall (die)?  For example, by killing the guards to ensure he is not accused of Duncan's murder, Macbeth has shown everyone around him that he has the capacity to murder.  How about the fact that Macbeth's best friend Banquo is murdered?  We know Macbeth had to get rid of him because he was a good man and might have revealed what he suspected, but all the others see is that people around Macbeth are mysteriously murdered.   When Macbeth has Macduff's family killed, he has created an extremely motivated enemy--and Macduff is the one who kills Macbeth. 

Think through the basic plot line and look for any such evidence to support your position.  I've included a few enotes reference sites below to help you start looking.  You have a clear thesis, and you'll do a great job, I'm sure.  Happy writing!