How is the theme of "ambition" demonstrated in the play in terms of character traits, events, symbolism, imagery, and motifs? Also link to other themes (i.e. "deceptiveness," "appearances,"...

How is the theme of "ambition" demonstrated in the play in terms of character traits, events, symbolism, imagery, and motifs?

Also link to other themes (i.e. "deceptiveness," "appearances," "treachery").

Intergrate quotes into your sentences.

Expert Answers
Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That's a lot to ask, and you'll have to do some of the specific things yourself; however, the word ambition is clearly everywhere in this play and its title character.

Character traits - Ambition is a good thing until it becomes the driving force for behavior and thinking.  Banquo is intrigued by the prediction for his family, but he's not moved to action.  The same is true for the newly named Prince of Cumberland; he doesn't immediately start plotting his father's demise. The only two characters who display excessive ambition are Macbeth and his Lady. 

Events - The events which precipitate the Macbeths' excessive ambition begin with the witches' predictions.  Once they tell him he'll become Thane of Cawdor--and he becomes just that--he presumes he will next be king.  He and his wife make that happen, despite his initial reaction that he will be king only if "chance" will have it.  Macbeth murders the King and Banquo and Macduff's entire household out of his fear and paranoia, in addition to his ambition.  

Symbolism - Ambition is pretty clear-cut and straightforward, though it may be disguised (see motifs).  The outward symbol of his ambition is the crown, what his wife refers to as "the golden round."

Imagery - See symbolism.  Figurative language is most helpful when a concept is unclear and the audience (reader) needs a picture.  The Macbeths' ambition is just not that complicated.  Their desire for and actions toward the crown are rather overt.

Motifs - Appearances can be deceptive, and ambition (among other things) can often be hidden.  From the first appearance of the witches, we are warned that "fair is foul and foul is fair."  Macbeth himself says "nothing is but what is not" immediately after the witches predict and disappear.  We hear "so fair and foul a day I have not seen," and Macbeth says, "False face must hide what the false heart doth know."  This constant juxtaposition between what appears to be and what is can be found in all shapes and forms throughout the play, ambition or not(Macbeth offering hospitality to the man he will soon kill, an owl which attacks a hawk, an heir to the throne who claims to be a vile sinner but isn't).

Once Macbeth attains his goal, he is forced to maintain it. Ambition drives both of these actions through disguising truth as a lie.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That ambition--"vaulting ambition"--overtakes all other motives is evident throughout Shakespeare's Macbeth. In the first act, for instance, when Banquo and Macbeth hear that Macbeth is to be Thane of Cawdor and King of Scotland, Banquo, a foil to Macbeth, notes that his friend is "rapt withal."  In the fifth scene, Lady Macbeth, too, makes notes of his ambition, but chastises him for not having the wickedness to accompany it, so that he can reach the desired heights:

....Yet do I fear thy nature:

It is too full o' th' milk of human kindness...Thou wouldst be great,

Art not without ambition, but without

The illness should attend it...(1.5.14-17)

She, however, goads him into commiting the murder.  Before doing so, Macbeth, in a soliloquy, ponders his motives and potential actions, conceding that ambition supercedes all others:

...but this blow

Might be the be-all and the end-all...

That tears shall drown the the wind.  I have no spur

To prick the sides of my intent, but only

Vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself

And fall on th'other (1.7. 4-28)

It is this obsessive ambition which drives Macbeth on his murderous path.  With each prediction of the witches, his fear of interference to his aims and paranoia causes him to murder, and murder again. He knows that he is obsessed:

The expedition of my violent love

Outrun the pauser, reason....(3.5.115)

For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind;

For them the gracious duncan have I murdered;

Purt rancors in the vessel of my peace

Only for them, and mine eternal jewel

Given to the common enemy of man....(3.1.69-74)

Yet, he pursues his evil path because he believes that "Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill" (3.3.55).   That there is no turning back from the drive of ambition is further exemplfied in Macbeth's remark,

...For mine own good

All causes shall more

Returning were as tedious as go o'er (3.4.24)

Clearly, the tragic Macbeth follows his "air drawn dagger" of ambition all the way "to dusty death."