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Ambition Subverts Reason - MacBeth

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Graham Macphee

on 12 February 2013

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Transcript of Ambition Subverts Reason - MacBeth

DON'T FALL ASLEEP Ambition Subverts Reason in MacBeth The Basics The Witches in MacBeth are the spark which sets off a chain reaction of changes in character. They, first, plant the idea in MacBeth's head that he could be the King of Scotland. This causes his wife to invest in the idea, and take it further to the point that she wishes to be a greater part of the country's ruling. It is this small seed which sprouts in the minds of the characters, twisting them for the worse and changing their personalities to the point that murder is an acceptable step along the way. tl;dr The Witches plant the idea of ambition in MacBeth's head - and his wife's. Dashed the brains out... Wouldst thou have that which thou esteem’st the ornament of life, and live a coward in thine own esteem, letting I dare not wait upon I would, like the poor cat i' th' adage?

- Act One Scene 7, Line 41 In this quote, Lady MacBeth alludes to a proverb: the cat which wishes to eat the fish, but dare not enter the water as its paws would get wet. This adds meaning to the idea of the Lady becoming queen. As a cat may be seen as a feminine animal, it could be said that when Lady MacBeth refers to this “adage”, she is in fact not talking about MacBeth but herself and her unwillingness to care about getting her feet wet (or her hands bloody). This would also give the reader an idea of how Lady MacBeth perceives herself; she is a cat which will strike its prey in a vicious manner should she be presented the opportunity (or be able to create the opportunity) to do so. It reveals that she is not only motivated, but ruthless and deadly. tl;dr Lady MacBeth is represented as a cat in a metaphor applying the attribute of ruthlessness to her. Make my blood thick, stop up th'access and passage to remorse that no compunctious visitings of nature shake my fell purpose nor keep peace between th'effect and it. Come to my woman's breasts and take my milk for gall, you murd'ring ministers, wherever in your slightest substances you wait on nature's mischief. Come, thick night, and pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, that my keen knife see not the wound it makes, nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark, to cry, 'Hold, hold.'
- Act One Scene 5, Line 41 Unsex me... In Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy, after she had asked to be unsexed, she then asks the spirits to shroud her activities in darkness so that not even God can see her crimes. The metaphor: “blanket of dark” creates an image in the reader’s head of a darkness such that you are unable to see in front of you. This shows that the Lady is consumed by her ambition to be Queen and that she is blind to any wrongdoings that may be needed to achieve this. Personification is used: “my knife see not the wounds it makes”. The knife has no control over its actions making it dangerous yet weak. The knife could be seen to portray Macbeth's situation as he is dangerous and being manipulated by his wife. Lady MacBeth may also be seen as weak for not committing the murder herself. This allows the reader further understanding into why she wants to become a man. Spirits in thine ear... The juxtaposition creates an image of contrast between the naive-looking exterior of Macbeth and the devious and evil plans of Lady MacBeth. The word choice of: “serpent,” has Biblical connotations to the serpent that tricked Eve into picking the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. This is perhaps Shakespeare’s way of suggesting that Macbeth, or his wife, is synonymous of the Devil. This image is effective in portraying Lady Macbeth as a cunning character as she manages to manipulate her husband into being her pawn. Therefore, Lady Macbeth’s word choice has profound effect on the reader: it establishes that she is controlling the happenings leading to each murder. ...your, your tongue; look like the innocent flower, but be the serpent underneath.

- Act One Scene 5, Line 46 tl;dr Lady MacBeth wants to be like a man. She wants to have power to herself. Her ambition for this initiates her murderous plot. CUTE CAT /
DON'T FALL ASLEEP I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible to feelings as to sight? Or art thou a dagger of the mind, a false creation, proceeding from the heat-oppressèd brain? I see thee yet, in form as palpable as this which I now draw. Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going, and such an instrument I was to use.

- Act Two Scene 1, Line 46 Dagger of the mind... There are many possible ways of looking at this image, but the one most directly related to the theme of ambition and the subversion of reason involves taking the vision of the dagger as a metaphor for MacBeth's inner thoughts, a metaphor for his ambitions. The dagger goes on to "marshal" him to murder: note the militant connotations of the word which could link to the idea that he is being commanded by Lady MacBeth and is willing to war to gain control of the thrown. This association aside, the description of the dagger can be seen to be a physical portrayal of MacBeth's urges. He sees what he wants to see. tl;dr The image of the dagger reveals Macbeth's inner feelings and motives. Important Note To make sense of this analysis, an understanding of a basic quotation is needed:

Thou wouldst be great, art not without ambition.

- Act One Scene 5, Line 16

Lady MacBeth provides the initial connection between the ideas of success - gaining control of the throne - and ambition. tl;dr Lady MacBeth is manipulating her husband in order to fulfil her ambitions. ...hopefully you didn't. Thou losest labour. Fountain of blood... O, yet I do repent me of my fury that I did kill them.
- Act Two Scene 2, Line 98 tl;dr MacBeth is obsessed with murder yet does not see the evil in himself. He is becoming mentally unstable. This quote is found shortly after Macbeth has murdered Duncan and his servants. He is asked what has happened and provides this response. The word order in the sentence, with "I did kill them" concluding, places a simple picture in the reader's head: Macbeth did commit murder. This image is so contrasting with the preceding images of confusion within MacBeth's mind (the dagger representing this) and Lady Macbeth controlling him (it being her ambitions guiding him) that it emphasises the extent to which he is mentally unstable - what he says, what he does and what he believes he does are all different things. In addition, the "fatal vision" quoted in this section could itself be a metaphor for the acts MacBeth is about to commit and a small piece of foreshadowing as to the end result of these acts. "Fatal" could allude to MacBeth's death at the end of the play, caused by these initial murders, proving that this subversion of his thinking has caused him to lose his sanity to the extent that he cannot escape death. By attempting to take the crown by force unnaturally, he has brought upon himself an unnecessary death. The theme of ambition subverting reason is present throughout the play, and it is one of the main themes which follows MacBeth and Lady MacBeth from their initial influencing to aspire to take the throne. As we have shown, the theme is present at several points in the play... The Witches aim to take control of the throne of Scotland, or show that they are powerful enough to decide who takes it. This results in Lady Macbeth losing her mind, and her life, and MacBeth realising his misdemeanours (all the murdering and stuff) have not made him all-powerful. Their ambition then leads them to lose their sense of morality and common reasoning. They infect the minds of MacBeth and his wife. More spirits... ... and chastise with the valour of my tongue.

- Act One Scene 5, Line 25 This conveys the image of the master (mistress) and her dog (her 'bitch'). This literally means that Lady MacBeth is going to blackmail Macbeth into killing Duncan with the promise of royal reward for him, but in fact she would keep this for herself. She is significantly more dominant in their relationship, making us question the roles of gender in such a partnership. She is the one leading Macbeth and taking the goodness out of him for her own gain. It is her ambition which has caused her to do this. All great Neptune's oceans... My hands are of your colour, but I shame to wear a heart as white.

- Act Two Scene 2, Line 64 Her hands are bloody but she feels ashamed of MacBeth's guilt. This shows Lady MacBeth's nature; she is cruel and controlling. She seeks power over MacBeth, which could ultimately lead to control over Scotland, seeing as she so heavily influences MacBeth's thoughts. She is using MacBeth as a puppet - or a "dagger" - for her deeds. You look angry... Have I not reason, beldams as you are? Saucy and overbold, how did you dare to trade and traffic with Macbeth in riddles and affairs of death, and I, the mistress of your charms, the close contriver of all harms, was never called to bear my part, or show the glory of our art? And, which is worse, all you have done hath been but for a wayward son, spiteful and wrathful, who, as others do, loves for his own ends, not for you.

- Act Three Scene 5, Line 2 tl;dr Hecate - the Greek (and earlier) goddess associated with witchcraft, potions and poison – looks angry, and is. She returns to find the Witches plotting against MacBeth without her consent. The word “dare” elicits connotations of risk and imperfection making the actions of the Witches seem improper. This justifies the reaction of Hecate (the volatility of which is also conveyed by “dare” and the tone it is heard in). This shows that the Witches have stepped out of line in what could be seen to be a strictly hierarchical structure of power. MacBeth is not the only one whom is disrupting the natural order by attempting to take control of the throne: there is also a war – a power-struggle - raging behind this, with the Witches and Hecate. The ambition here can be summarised by the simple words: “overbold” and “mistress”. These clearly display the nature of the structure of the Witches’ order. “Overbold” shows that everyone has a place, and in this case the Witches have outstepped theirs. “Mistress” shows a clear presence of a commander. This theme of power, leadership and commandment can be followed through MacBeth and Lady MacBeth’s relationship, too. Summary
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