What motivations to commit crime does Shakespeare supply for Macbeth?
Despite Macbeth at first understanding that ambitious violations invite retribution, by recognising that ‘even-handed justice commends th’ingredience of our poisoned chalice to our own lips’, Shakespeare structurally makes Macbeth’s sheer ambition outrun his initial reasoned approach over the course of the first two acts. The idea of becoming King overwhelms Macbeth, speaking aside and consequently making it clear to the audience that his ambition ‘doth unfix my hair and make my seated heart knock at my ribs against the use of nature’. It shakes him to his core, which leads him to beg for the stars to hide their fires, to prevent light from seeing his ‘black and deep desires’. The great extent to which ambition motivates Macbeth is made clear when he explains that ‘The expedition of my violent love/ Outran the pauser, reason.’ The character is attempting to excuse his murder of Duncan’s guards by suggesting that his love for Duncan was so strong it got ahead of his reason. However, it seems Shakespeare intended to present an alternative interpretation to the audience that clearly indicates that his ambition is so great that it does the impossible, winning a race that cannot be won- it outruns ‘reason’. Furthermore, Shakespeare associates ‘reason’ with nature and nature’s order, so to outrun reason is thus to violate nature itself. The gothic unnaturalness of Macbeth’s ambition is shown throughout the play, where for instance, it causes his heart to knock at his ribs ‘against the use of nature’, or when he asks nature (stars) to ‘let not light’ see his desires. By showing a paradoxical striving beyond reason and nature as a result of Macbeth’s ambition, Shakespeare effectively and clearly demonstrates how ambition has a huge command over what Macbeth does, which in turn motivates him to commit crimes in a vain attempt to achieve it. The audience is perhaps reminded of the Biblical passage: ‘What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?’ Shakespeare has formed a character that is attempting to gain the whole world, without losing his soul, by defying reason and nature. This attempt to ‘gain the whole world’ is shown to be Macbeth’s main motivation.