Whose ambition is the driving force of the play Macbeth:  Mabeth's, Lady Macbeth's or both of them?

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Gretchen Mussey eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Both Macbeth and his wife display their ambitious nature by plotting and participating in King Duncan's assassination. Despite Macbeth's initial reluctance to commit regicide, his comments regarding how he will attain the title of king reveal his ambition. Immediately after Macbeth learns that one of the prophecies has come true, he begins thinking about murdering Duncan. Macbeth says,

"If good, why do I yield to that suggestion Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair And make my seated heart knock at my ribs" (Shakespeare, 1.3.138-140).

In Act One, Scene 4, Macbeth once again displays his ambitious nature after King Duncan declares that Malcolm will be next in line to sit on the throne. Macbeth describes his ambition as "black and deep desires" by saying,

"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" (Shakespeare, 1.4.50-55).

Macbeth's immediate thoughts about murdering the king reveal his ambitious nature.

After Lady Macbeth reads her husband's letter, she expresses her concern that Macbeth is too kind and compassionate to carry out the murder. Like her husband, Lady Macbeth displays her ambitious nature by summoning evil spirits to make her callous and wicked enough to help assassinate King Duncan. Lady Macbeth then plans Duncan's murder, convinces her husband to kill the king in his sleep, places the bloody daggers back in Duncan's chamber, and helps Macbeth disguise his involvement. Overall, both characters are extremely ambitious and commit regicide in order to become king and queen of Scotland. As the play progresses, Macbeth continues to demonstrate his ambition by ruthlessly murdering anyone who challenges his reign.

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jseligmann eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Ambition is one thing, murdering out of fear is quite another.

It is quite correct to say that, in the beginning, after he is tempted by the witches, Macbeth thinks about killing Duncan in order to become king himself (Act 1, scene 3):

My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,

Shakes so my single state of man that function

Is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is

But what is not.

But Lady Macbeth is right: her husband is not cruel enough to kill for what he sort of wants. No, it is Lady Macbeth's "vaulting ambition" that ultimately propells Macbeth to do the deed. In fact, he knows of her desires and tells her pointedly, in Act 2, "We will proceed no further in this business." Then he gives her all kinds of very good reasons why they should not kill the king, but she prevails and manupulates him into doing the murder.

Macbeth is not ambitions, he is weak. Yes, the great and brave warrior is weak compared  to his overbearingly ambitious wife. After the murder, fear overtakes Macbeth, and what looks like a wll to power is not ambition but a ferocious attemp to be safe at all costs: "For mine own good/All causes shall give way."

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teachertaylor eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Macbeth's ambition is the driving force in the play.  Certainly Lady Macbeth is also ambitious and thus persuades her husband to do whatever it takes to secure his position as King; however, it is Macbeth's ambition that drives the later events in the play.  In the first act, Lady Macbeth says that Macbeth is not without ambition but that he lacks the drive to put his ambition into reality.  So, she helps him carry out Duncan's murder.  But after this is done, Macbeth is so driven to cover up his crime and continue his reign as King that he has many other people murdered including Banquo and Macduff's family.  Lady Macbeth knows nothing of these murders while Macbeth is planning them, so her ambition is not a driving force for the later murders.  Further, Lady Macbeth eventually repents her role in these crimes while Macbeth vows to fight to the bitter end.  Thus, Macbeth's ambition is a greater driving force in the play.

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