thesis statement for ambition in macbeth

William Shakespeare

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Macbeth is a play about ambition run amok. The weird sisters ' prophecies spur both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to try to fulfill their ambitions, but the witches never make Macbeth or his wife do anything. Macbeth and his wife act on their own to fulfill their deepest desires. Macbeth, a good general and, by all accounts before the action of the play, a good man, allows his ambition to overwhelm him and becomes a murdering, paranoid maniac. Lady Macbeth, once she begins to put into actions the once-hidden thoughts of her mind, is crushed by guilt.

Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth want to be great and powerful, and sacrifice their morals to achieve that goal. By contrasting these two characters with others in the play, such as Banquo , Duncan , and Macduff , who also want to be great leaders but refuse to allow ambition to come before honor, Macbeth shows how naked ambition, freed from any sort of moral or social conscience, ultimately takes over every other characteristic of a person. Unchecked ambition, Macbeth suggests, can never be fulfilled, and therefore quickly grows into a monster that will destroy anyone who gives into it.

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Macbeth: the Complex Intersection of Ambition Morality and Fate

This essay about William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” examines the complex themes of ambition morality and fate within the play. It describes Macbeth’s transition from a noble warrior to a tyrannical ruler driven by the prophecies of the Weird Sisters and his own unchecked ambition. Lady Macbeth’s role is also highlighted as she embodies and manipulates gender norms to fulfill her desires. The essay discusses the psychological consequences of Macbeth’s actions including his guilt and paranoia which lead to his tragic downfall. Themes of fate versus free will are explored through the characters’ reactions to the witches’ ambiguous prophecies. Additionally the play’s use of natural and supernatural elements is discussed emphasizing how personal corruption is mirrored by cosmic disorder. The essay concludes by reflecting on the moral lessons of the play and its relevance to contemporary issues of power and ethics.

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William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” is a profound exploration of the dark side of ambition and the consequences of unethical behavior wrapped within a dramatic and thrilling narrative. This tragic play steeped in witchcraft prophecy and murder offers a timeless analysis of the human condition and the psychological effects of power and guilt.

“Macbeth” begins with the titular character in a place of honor and valor having just defeated the forces of invasion and rebellion against King Duncan of Scotland. His encounter with the three Weird Sisters on the desolate heath marks a turning point not only in the plot but in his moral landscape.

The witches prophesy that Macbeth will become king planting the seeds of ambition and desire for power. Shakespeare brilliantly illustrates how Macbeth initially a loyal and noble warrior is led astray by his aspirations and the manipulations of his wife Lady Macbeth.

Equally complicated and motivated by her own goals is Lady Macbeth. She defies the prevailing gender conventions of the era by demonstrating willpower and strength even greater than her husband’s. She is willing to give up all things feminine in order to fulfill her wants as seen by her well-known plea to the spirits to “unsex me here” and fill her with malice. This scene is significant because it emphasizes how gender roles and the dynamics of power inside a marriage are explored in the play.

The drama explores Macbeth’s psychological suffering as he ascends to the throne through regicide. The story culminates in a depressing realization as the remorse he feels for what he did causes him to experience psychosis and disturbing visions. Shakespeare skillfully discusses the social and psychological effects of unchecked ambition by using Macbeth’s spiral into madness. At the blood-stained blade hallucination and later when Banquo’s ghost appears at the supper Macbeth is forced to face the moral consequences of his actions.

The theme of fate versus free will also pervades the narrative. While the witches’ prophecies set Macbeth on the path to kingship it is his own actions—spurred by his interpretation of their words—that seal his doom. This interplay raises questions about predetermination and the extent of free will themes that resonate deeply with audiences even today. The prophecies ambiguous and cunning can be seen as self-fulfilling driven by Macbeth’s choices rather than any true destiny.

Moreover the natural and supernatural elements of the play serve to enhance its ominous atmosphere. The constant references to darkness storms and the eerie appearances of the witches connect the turmoil within Macbeth to the cosmic disorder he creates. This linkage between the moral and natural realms is a common element in Shakespearean tragedies where personal actions disrupt the broader order of the universe.

“Macbeth” is a stark reminder of the perils of excessive ambition and moral compromise. The play’s conclusion with Macbeth defeated and the rightful order restored serves as a cathartic resolution of the chaos unleashed by his actions. Yet the resolution also invites reflection on the cycle of power and its consequences suggesting that ambition unchecked by ethical considerations leads invariably to ruin.

Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” offers a thought-provoking reflection on the nature of human ambition and the intricacies of the human psyche in addition to being an entertaining play. The drama which continues to be a mainstay of English literature offers perspectives that are still applicable in the modern period. Its depiction of a tyrant’s ascent and descent is nevertheless a potent meditation on the contradictions in human nature and the never-ending struggle between good and evil.


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GCSE Macbeth thesis and model paragraph - Macbeth's ambition

GCSE Macbeth thesis and model paragraph - Macbeth's ambition

Subject: English

Age range: 14-16

Resource type: Worksheet/Activity

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A model thesis and first paragraph for the question: How does Shakespeare present Macbeth’s ambition? Topic sentence for second and third paragraphs and room for writing a We Do model, followed by students’ independent paragraph. I Do We Do You Do structure applied to essay. Great for introducing essay writing or feedback after assessment.

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Shakespeare: Model Answers ( AQA GCSE English Literature )

Revision note.


  • Model Answers

Below, you will find a full-mark, Level 6 model answer for a Shakespeare essay. The commentary below each section of the essay illustrates how and why it would be awarded Level 6. Despite the fact it is an answer to a Macbeth question, the commentary below is relevant to any Shakespeare question.

As the commentary is arranged by assessment objective, a student-friendly mark scheme has been included here:

when techniques are explained fully and relevant to your argument

Model Answer Breakdown

The commentary for the below model answer as arranged by assessment objective: each paragraph has a commentary for a different assessment objective, as follows:

  • The introduction includes commentary on all the AOs
  • Paragraph 1 includes commentary on AO1 (answering the question and selecting references)
  • Paragraph 2 includes commentary on AO2 (analysing the writer’s methods)
  • Paragraph 3 includes commentary on AO3 (exploring context)
  • The conclusion includes commentary on all the AOs

The model answer answers the following question:


Level 6, Full-Mark Answer

Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a female character who changes dramatically over the course of the play: she changes from a ruthless, remorseless woman who is able to manipulate her husband, to one that is sidelined by Macbeth and, ultimately, totally consumed by guilt. Shakespeare is perhaps suggesting that unchecked ambition and hubris, particularly for women, have fatal consequences.


  • The introduction is in the form of a thesis statement
  • It includes a central argument based on my own opinions
  • "Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a female character who changes dramatically over the course of the play"
  • "she changes from a ruthless, remorseless woman who is able to manipulate her husband, to one that is sidelined by Macbeth and, ultimately, totally consumed by guilt."
  • It acknowledges Shakespeare as an author making deliberate choices and conveying a message:
  •   "Shakespeare is perhaps suggesting that ..."
  • It includes modal language to show a conceptualised approach

Lady Macbeth’s strength – and ability to command and manipulate those around her – dramatically diminishes from the first time the audience sees her, in Act I, Scene V, to the last time, here in Act V, Scene I. The first time she is presented to the audience, Lady Macbeth is presented as a very untypical woman: far from being a dutiful and subservient wife, she is shown to be plotting on Macbeth’s behalf, speaks of him disparagingly (she worries he is too kind to carry out her plan), and is presented as having power over both Macbeth and her surroundings. This dominance can be seen in her use of imperatives, both when she is directing Macbeth to disguise his true intentions to Duncan (and be a “serpent underneath”), and later, more forcefully, when she orders Macbeth to “give” her the daggers. This shows that Lady Macbeth has almost assumed the dominant position in their relationship, and taken on the typically ‘male’ characteristics of authority and strength (whereas Macbeth’s “kindness” can here be seen as a sign of weakness). However, there is an irony in Shakespeare’s use of imperatives later in the play: in Act V, Scene I, Lady Macbeth is shown to have lost her power to command those things around her and her use of imperatives (“Out, damned spot! Out, I say”) speaks more of abject desperation than her authority. She has lost the power to command her husband, her surroundings and even her own mind. Shakespeare could be suggesting that the unusual power dynamic presented at the beginning of the play is unnatural, and that, as a woman, Lady Macbeth would never be able to maintain this type of authority without succumbing to madness.

  • The paragraph begins with a topic sentence
  • Topic sentence directly addresses the question (the “change” the character undergoes)
  • Topic sentence has a narrower focus than the thesis statement
  • The whole paragraph is related to the topic sentence
  • The paragraph includes at least one reference to the extract
  • The paragraph includes multiple references to the rest of the play
  • All references are linked to the question and support the argument of my topic sentence

Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a character whose self-control and authority over her own mind evaporates by Act V. We see this in the repetitious and fragmented language Shakespeare has her use in this scene. The repetition of several words and phrases (“to bed”; “come”; “O”) shows a character who is not in control of her own thought processes and has lost agency over her own mind. Shakespeare emphasises this by using contrasting verse forms for Lady Macbeth as the play progresses. Initially, she uses the order and authority of blank verse, which reflects her own power and control. However, in this scene, Lady Macbeth does not use the regular or ordered language of blank verse, but rather the disordered form of prose. This reflects both her loss of status and power (prose is often used by commoners in Shakespeare’s plays), but also her own mental illness. Indeed, the description of her having a “disease” in this scene is ironic, since earlier in the play she describes Macbeth as “brainsickly” and “infirm”: it is now she who is the weaker of the two. Perhaps Shakespeare uses this role reversal once again to suggest that women assuming positions of dominance is unnatural and may lead to mental decline.

  • The analysis provides evidence for the points in the topic sentence (all evidence relates to Lady Macbeth’s mental state)
  • Whole-text analysis of Shakespeare’s methods, not just focused on the extract
  • Not just analysis of Shakespeare’s language, but also of form
  • The analysis includes other wider choices made by Shakespeare: 
  • Characterisation
  • All analysis is explained fully in terms of the question and my own argument
  • The analysis explained in terms of Shakespeare’s overall message

Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a character who loses her resolve over the mortal sin of regicide as the play progresses. Initially, Lady Macbeth is presented as a character who believes that both she and her husband will be able to evade the typical consequences of committing a crime – the murder of a king – that would have been seen as truly heinous. Not only is it a crime punishable by death, but the religious consequences would be dire: eternal punishment in Hell. Shakespeare presents her as acknowledging the seriousness of the crime in Act I, Scene V where she references Heaven and Hell prior to the murder of Duncan, but she believes, arrogantly, that she is strong enough to evade capture, as well as cloak herself from feelings of guilt and remorse. Her hubris is also shown later in the play, after the regicide has been committed, when she tells Macbeth that “a little water clears us of this deed”, implying that it will be straightforward to escape the psychological impact of committing a mortal sin. However, by Act V, Scene I Lady Macbeth is shown to have completely lost her resolve, and is haunted by those psychological impacts: she sees blood, which symbolically represents guilt, on her hands, which she cannot wash off. Indeed, later she states that Duncan had “so much blood in him”, an admission that a little water could never have cleansed the guilt from her conscience (“what’s done cannot be undone”). This irony is highlighted again by Shakespeare when Lady Macbeth states that “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”, the hyperbole emphasising the enormity of her crime. Shakespeare could be suggesting that no one can escape the psychological and theological consequences of regicide. Indeed, the Doctor states that he has never seen anyone in Lady Macbeth’s state die “holily”, echoing Lady Macbeth’s own earlier reference to Hell.

  • Does not include any irrelevant historical or biographical facts
  • All context is linked to the topic sentence (“loses resolve over the mortal sin of regicide”) and the argument as a whole
  • All context is integrated into analysis of Shakespeare’s methods
  • Understanding contextual ideas and perspectives provides additional insight into my main argument
  • Context is sometimes implied, rather than explicit. This still shows sophisticated awareness of ideas (here about religion and Hell)

In conclusion, Shakespeare presents Lady Macbeth as a female character who changes from a character who assumes dominance over her husband and her surroundings, to a woman who loses all agency. Moreover, initially, Shakespeare presents her as a character who seemingly has the mental fortitude to deal with the mortal sin of regicide with a clear conscience, but this mental strength also evaporates. Shakespeare could be issuing a warning to those people who believe they can escape the psychological and theological consequences of sin, especially if they are women who assume an atypical and unnatural position of power.

  • The conclusion uses keywords from the question
  • The conclusion links to the thesis
  • The conclusion sums up more detailed arguments outlined in the topic sentences of all paragraphs
  • It also gives a fuller understanding of Shakespeare’s intentions, based on ideas explored in the essay

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Author: Nick

Nick is a graduate of the University of Cambridge and King’s College London. He started his career in journalism and publishing, working as an editor on a political magazine and a number of books, before training as an English teacher. After nearly 10 years working in London schools, where he held leadership positions in English departments and within a Sixth Form, he moved on to become an examiner and education consultant. With more than a decade of experience as a tutor, Nick specialises in English, but has also taught Politics, Classical Civilisation and Religious Studies.

Home — Essay Samples — Literature — Macbeth — Theme Of Guilt In Macbeth


Theme of Guilt in Macbeth

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Published: Mar 5, 2024

Words: 986 | Pages: 2 | 5 min read

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thesis statement for ambition in macbeth


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