How did Macbeth's own ambition lead to his downfall?

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Macbeth's ambition was not merely a desire to become king of Scotland but was an overriding ambition, meaning he was not prepared to wait for the normal rules of succession to apply for him to become king. This would have meant King Duncan and his heirs would have to die before Macbeth could even be considered. Macbeth wanted to bypass this tedious and lengthy process. This meant Macbeth had to assassinate all those who would stand in his way, which leads to his downfall.  

Obviously, usurpation of the throne meant Macbeth had to do evil. He was encouraged in this malicious venture by the witches' favorable predictions that he would be thane of Cawdor and "king hereafter." When the first part of their prediction is realized, Macbeth feels confident the second will naturally follow. 

Lady Macbeth also shares her husband's lust for power and urges him to act. Macbeth initially expresses doubt about the success of such a malevolent enterprise, but Lady Macbeth was relentless. She calls him a coward, challenging his love for her and questioning his trust to such an extent that Macbeth eventually gives in. He then says, in the closing lines of Act 1, Scene 6:

I am settled, and bend upEach corporal agent to this terrible feat.Away, and mock the time with fairest show:False face must hide what the false heart doth know.

This decision marked the beginning of Macbeth's descent into ignominy and eventual doom. He and his wife carefully plotted the king's murder, and, once they successfully murder Duncan, Macbeth is crowned king. Malcolm and Donalbain, the king's sons and heirs, fled, which makes them the prime suspects in their father's demise. 

Once Macbeth is king, he becomes paranoid and suspects practically everyone around him. He begins a malicious campaign in which he plans to destroy everyone he believes is a threat. This leads Macbeth to have Macduff's entire family and Banquo killed. 

Macbeth's tyranny was spurred on by the fact that his counsel with the witches made him believe that he was invincible. Through apparitions, the witches told Macbeth,

Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scornThe power of man, for none of woman bornShall harm Macbeth.

Be lion-mettled, proud; and take no careWho chafes, who frets, or where conspirers are:Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be untilGreat Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hillShall come against him (IV. 1. 79-91).

Macbeth takes everything the witches say literally and believes he is indestructible. Later, Macbeth is confronted by reality when he learns Malcolm's troops are moving up Dunsinane hill, camouflaged by branches cut from the trees of Birnam wood, making the wood appear to be moving. When confronted by Macduff, Macbeth learns Macduff was not naturally born; he was 'untimely ripped' from his mother's womb.   

It is then—just before Macduff kills him—that Macbeth realizes he was deceived by the witches' use of equivocation and paradox , and he curses them. The...

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witches made Macbeth believe he is charmed when, in fact, he is as mortal as everyone else.

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Why couldn't Macbeth withstand his ambition to do wrong?

This seems like a simple question, but this is the crux of the entire play. What you need to decide is whether or not Macbeth determines his own actions or is being manipulated by others.

From the description of Macbeth and his actions on the battlefield in Act I, scene ii he appears to be a loyal, capable thane. Putting down a rebellion against Duncan seems to demonstrate a lack of murderous ambition. We get this first impression of Macbeth second-hand, though--we'll never really know what the man was like before the play begins.

The witches--from the first moments of the play--appear to have a hand in events. How much? That is for the audience to decide. When they speak their first prophecies to Macbeth in Act I, scene iii, Macbeth's mind immediately turns to murder: "why do I yield to that suggestion / Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair / And make my seated heart knock at my ribs / Against the use of nature?" Either Macbeth's ambition was always there, just waiting for an excuse to escape, or the witches are manipulating him--perhaps even casting some kind of spell over him.

Your answer to this question of Macbeth's culpability is the key to your understanding of the play. Either he was a good man who turns murderous in an instant or he is the victim of a supernatural conspiracy. Your view will color any analysis of theme--particularly how tragic a figure Macbeth really is.

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