There are many different forms of battle, some of which cannot be won. When fighting against yourself, how is it possible to win? Shakespeare's fourth and shortest tragedy, Macbeth, is a fine example of how even the most romanticised heroes have to fight their innermost desires, when ambition rears its ugly head.
While no hero is perfect, betrayal and cold-blooded murder are not expected of Macbeth when he is first encountered in the play. After fighting a fierce and bloody battle for King and country, Macbeth, riding with his close companion, Banquo, is confronted by three witches who inform him of a prophecy, stating he will be King hereafter (I,iii,53). These witches are used by Shakespeare to foreground a major discourse in the play; the willingness of the human mind to accept appearances if they fit the mould of certain desires.
Upon hearing the prophecy, Macbeth writes home to his wife, signifying that he wants to believe the withered and wild creatures (I,iii,41).
Lady Macbeth then formulates a scheming plot to kill the current King, but wishes Macbeth to commit the atrocity. Macbeth, torn between his loyalty to King, wife and self, internally wrangles with his desires and moral conscience.
If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly. If the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch,
With his surcease, success, that but this blow
Might be the be-all and end-all here. (ed 6-7)
But in these cases
We still have judgement here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions, which being taught return
To plague the inventor.(ed 10-11) He's here in double trust:
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed. Then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angles, trumpet-tongued, against
The deep damnation of his taking-off. (ed 21-25)
I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition, which overleaps itself
And falls on the other. (ed. I,vii,1-27)
The loyal Macbeth, hero and willing servant once so sure of where his loyalty lay, is tempted to forsake it all in order to achieve his deepest desire: ultimate power. As he struggles not to do what he knows is wrong, a dramatic change of character is witnessed.
Macbeth now becomes the incubator for the seed of doubt. Following the witches' planting of the deadly kernel that would flower into pure ambition, he grows unstable. At first, he does not believe the prophecy requires direct intervention to succeed, but rather hopes that If chance will have me King / Why, chance may crown me / Without my stir (I,iii,56-58). However, as the plot thickens and his wife convinces him that fate needs a helping hand, he allows himself to be manipulated.
While he knows that by Elizabethan virtues he, as host, should defend any guest, he . . . should against his murderer shut the door / Not bear the knife (him) self (15/16), he is entertaining the idea, and If the assassination / Could trammel up the consequence (2/3), there would be no doubt in his mind. Furthermore, Macbeth can be interpreted as weak, as he has no convincing reason to commit the murder, I have no spur/ to prick the sides of my intent, only Vaulting ambition, which overleaps his logic and falls on his rationality (25/28). Dissatisfied with his lot as cousin to the king, Macbeth is willing to defy the "Great Chain of Being" and consider the greatest sin of all in his society, the killing of a king. The strong and loyal hero begins to show his true nature.
It is the flowering of that nature which is so important in the soliloquy's necessity, for it allows major character and plot developments to take place. Essentially, Shakespeare uses the scene to outline the rest of the play. He sets up Macbeth's decaying moral conscience by stating that, If it were done... then 'twere well / It were done quickly (1/2), as if speed would stem the tide of consequences to follow.
Cleverly, Shakespeare constructs Macbeth as aware that if he were to commit the perfidious murder, he would be inviting others to do the same to him: those who were taught by his own Bloody instructions would return / To plague the inventor (9/10).
However, Macbeth still struggles against his ambition, by reminding himself of Duncan's virtues, which he believes to be so great that even the angels will morn his demise. In addition, the audience is positioned for the finale, as Macbeth has just predicted his own tragic fate. The extract also portrays the weakening link between Macbeth and his wife as he chooses devotion to King over her.
While Macbeth's moral conscience prevails for the moment, vital plot growth is occurring. As Shakespeare chooses to portray Macbeth, in the extract, as a man who is "stirred" by ambition yet plagued by conscience, Macbeth appears to have a high moral standard. It is because of this that his first act of callous murder latches onto his conscience and causes him to feel so guilty that he is driven insane. The lunacy then gives the plot momentum, as he is drawn back to the witches, to see Banquo in the mirror and to commit murder after murder to safeguard his position, We have scorched the snake, not killed it (III,ii,15). It is this scene, where he almost succumbs to ambition, that gives birth to the rest of the play.
Nevertheless, for now, Macbeth manages to subdue his ambition and decides not to commit the treacherous murder. the deadly seed continues to grow and with a push from his wife the act is done, sending Macbeth into a spiralling decay of moral conscience, sanity and spirit, climaxing to the greatest loss of them all; his life. Even the great hero that he was, he could not fight his inner most desires, could not achieve peace, and loses the utmost battle of all, because his Vaulting ambition does overleap itself / And falls on the other.