Ruthless ambition and moral scruples in Shakespeare's "Macbeth"

Essay, 2008
7 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Reflection on Ruthless Ambition and Moral Scruples in Shakespeare's Macbeth

Macbeth is certainly one of the shortest tragedies that William Shakespeare had ever written. Still it is one of the most well-known Shakespearean tragedies. The entire play consists of only five acts which tell the story of the ambitious Thane of Glamis Macbeth who murders his king in order to accede to the throne. The main character shows an unusual complexity for such a concise play.

This essay will focus on analysing Macbeth’s character in order to proof that although Macbeth seems to be blinded by his ruthless ambition he still has moral scruples which eventually lend credence to his character.

The soliloquy is particularly suitable for the portrayal of a character’s inner feelings. There are different dramaturgical ways of allowing the reader to gain an insight into a character’s feelings, thoughts and intentions. The present excerpt1 is a soliloquy which gives the reader an insight into Macbeth’s character. When a soliloquy is being delivered there is only one character on stage (Meyer 102). In this case it is Macbeth who is alone on stage delivering his dramatic monologue. Since there are no other addressees except for the character himself and on a higher level the audience or the reader, the character is able to drop all pretence and give an insight into his inner thoughts and conflicts. A soliloquy can be considered a conversation with oneself. In the present excerpt we learn about Macbeth’s secret human fears, his regrets and his intentions. Macbeth reveals his fears (“There is none but he whose being I do fear “(line 53 -54)) and his sorrow that his former companion and friend Banquo and not he himself will be the “father to a line of kings” (line 59). In this part of the tragedy Macbeth’s character is being unfolded and he puts his inner conflict into words. With reservations this soliloquy can be considered as a stage for Macbeth’s subconscious attempt to justify his regicide before the audience. However there is no real justification for his wrongdoing and he is obviously also not willing to step back from his evil plans. This descent into evil becomes even more inevitable as his idea figures to murder Banquo in order to avert his own destiny (“Rather than so, come fate into the list”). Getting such a deep insight of a character’s fears and sorrows eventually lends more credence to Macbeth’s character and lets the character’s actions appear more replicable.

The structure of the soliloquy alludes to the condition Macbeth is in while delivering it. The metre in this soliloquy is not consistent. The soliloquy is written in blank verse with mostly iambic metre. But in certain lines the metre is either completely broken off or stretches over two lines by a run-on-line:

To be thus is nothing,

But to be safely thus. Our fears in Banquo

Stick deep, and in his royalty of nature

Reigns that which would be fear'd. ’Tis much he

dares, (lines 45-50)

This exemplifies how the run-on-line is used in order to break off the regularity of verse.

The lack of rhyme can be considered as a sign for the seriousness of the delivered speech. Whenever blank verse is used we have to conclude that a more strictly arranged rhyme pattern would either be inappropriate or implausible as a frame for the content. In this case it would sound artificial if Macbeth bared his innermost by speaking in a fixed rhyme pattern. Having three run-on-lines already in the first five lines of the soliloquy might emphasize that Macbeth is now telling us the unadorned truth of his innermost self without any artificial patterns. The lack of structure can also be seen as a reference to his nascent insanity2. If the verse is inconsistent it can be concluded that the speaker himself is emotionally instable too. Subsequently it can be said that Macbeth is highly emotionalised in this soliloquy and therefore not able to stick to a strict form of metre. Refraining from using a fixed structure in this particular excerpt reinforces the credibility of Macbeth’s speech as being artless but explicit.

Even though the metre in this soliloquy seems to be quite artless there are various artful examples for imagery defining and explaining the inner thoughts and problems which concern Macbeth’s mind. Huston Diehl considers Macbeth “perhaps the most visual of Shakespeare’s tragedies” (Diehl 191) and the present excerpt also contains vivid imagery. The most remarkably illustrated contrasts in this excerpt are the different descriptions of Banquo and Macbeth. Macbeth describes Banquo’s character by using images which refer to Banquo’s noblesse and superiority. He certifies Banquo’s royal qualities by using the term “royality of nature” (line 48) and by comparing Banquo to Julius Caesar in line 56. He also describes Banquo as a man with a “dauntless temper” (line 51), “wisdom” and “valour” (line 52). Valour is considered one of the greatest virtues within Macbeth and so it seems as if Banquo must be the true-born successor of Duncan from all we get to know about him in the present soliloquy delivered by Macbeth.

In contrast to the description of Banquo’s royal quality Macbeth describes his own position by using drastically negative images as the“fruitless crown” that had been placed “upon [his] head” (line 60). He asserts that a “barren sceptre” had been given to him and alludes that he will have no children, which the witches actually never prophesied3.

“Although Macbeth seems unsure of his own relationship to the concept of true manhood, he can recognize in Banquo a complete man whose “royality of nature” and sexual potency he fears yet admires.”(Asp 156) Threatened by Banquo’s sexual potency and his own destiny to be king without any descendants Macbeth realizes that fate is not favourable for him and that he must either accept his destiny or - if possible - bend it for his benefit.


1 Act III, Scene I “To be thus is nothing [...] And champion me to th’ utterance.“

2 Insanity here refers to Macbeth being haunted by Banquo’s ghost

3 See page 144, Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Ed. Nicholas Brooke. New York: Oxford UP, 1990.

Excerpt out of 7 pages


Ruthless ambition and moral scruples in Shakespeare's "Macbeth"
University of Stuttgart  (Anglistik)
Introduction to Literary Studies
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Ambition, Moral, Scruples, Shakespeare', Macbeth, lady, banqo
Quote paper
Lisa Kastl (Author), 2008, Ruthless ambition and moral scruples in Shakespeare's "Macbeth", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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