Is too much ambition harmful? Generally speaking, ambition is the driving force to accomplish one’s goal; therefore it is understood to be a good thing. Because the force of Ambition is so strong, it will be able to turn one’s dream or goal into reality. But too much ambition can override one’s morality, because one can easily become overly paranoid by it, which will lead them to suspect the people around them. Two great examples of people in literature who experienced the downfall of having too much ambition are Oedipus from the play Oedipus The King and Macbeth from the play Macbeth; both plays written by William Shakespeare. Both Macbeth and Oedipus are driven by the force of ambition to achieve great goals in their lives, but tries too hard to reach the impossible and ends up making themselves and the people around them miserable. Therefore, ambition is good as long as one is contented in doing it rather than losing moral perspective, and discarding services from the people around them (even the trusted ones).
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The story of Oedipus’ downfall started out with Oedipus fleeing from the kingdom of Corinth because of a prophecy. The Oracle says that Oedipus will soon kill his father, marry his mother and will have incest children with her. Oedipus first ambition was as simple as to control his life and to fulfill his own destiny by leaving his adopted parents (the king and queen of Corinth) whom he still thinks are his biological parents. On his journey, he happens to run into a little conflict with the king of Thebes (King Laius, also his biological father) and without knowing this stranger’s identity, Oedipus’ impulsiveness and extreme pride causes him to accidentally killed him. This is when Oedipus starts to have a little more ambition, for he thinks that he can control anything and anyone who is in his way. Then arriving into the city of Thebes, he happens to run into the Sphinx and solved her riddles, which made him the new king of Thebes and unwillingly married the queen of Thebes, Jocasta (his biological mother whom he has no idea about). After spending twenty years ruling in Thebes with Jocasta and his children with her, his second ambition was to be a perfect king by ending the Apollo’s plague. In order to do this, he must investigate into the unsolved death case of King Laius, so he orders the all the citizens to “[â€¦] Banish this man- whoever he may be- never shelter him, never speak a word to him, never make him partner to your prayers, your victims burned to the gods. [â€¦] Drive him out, each of you from every home [â€¦]” (line 270-275). But this is obvious that Oedipus is digging up his own dirt, for he is the killer of King Laius, which is also the reason why the plague started in Thebes. When Creon tries to talk him out of this investigation, he claims that Creon is trying to take over him throne and when Tiresias told him that “Creon is not your downfall, no, you are your own.” (line 431), Oedipus assume that Tiresias’ words was paid off by Creon to overthrow him. With too much ambition, Oedipus was not able to trust anyone, instead he discarded the services from his trusted brother in law and Tiresias. His impulsiveness causes him to suspect Creon, refuses to listen Tiresias and Jocasta, and in the end, blinded himself, which all leads to him demises.
Similar to Oedipus is Macbeth. Macbeth started out as a respected general who fought and won the civil war (along with Banquo) for King Duncan and his country. But Macbeth’s downfall started after receiving the prophecies from the 3 witches (along with Banquo), which says that “[â€¦] Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!” (1.3.56-57) and that Banquo’s son will be “Lesser than Macbeth, and greater. Not so happy yet much happier” (1.3.71-72). Instead of ignoring the thought of being king; Macbeth chose to tell his wife about it. After hearing from her husband that his fate was meant to be a king, Lady Macbeth of course persuades her husband into killing Duncan to acquire the throne. As much as Macbeth loves his wife, he could have easily walked away from this temptation because Macbeth has always been a noble warrior towards Duncan and killing the king is a matter of life and death. Working hard to overcome the feeling of guilt that his ambition is putting him in (the struggle between right and wrong) “[â€¦] is this a dagger which I see before me, the handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee! [â€¦]”( 2.1.43-44), Macbeth decides to follow his lady’s plan “[â€¦] I go, and it is done. The bell invites me. Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell” (2.1.72-74). His decision to follow his wife’s plan of killing Duncan shows that he does have the self desire to become someone greater than just a general. After acquiring the throne from killing Duncan and having the ultimate power as the new king, Macbeth seems to have lost all his conscience. Since both Macbeth and Banquo were at the scene when the witches delivered the prophecies, Macbeth is now living in the fear of not being able to maintain his throne, for Banquo’s son is part of the prophecies. This causes Macbeth to become overly paranoid, which drove him to kill his dearest friend Banquo, for he suspects Banquo of wanting to overthrow him so that Banquo’s son can be the next ruler. As the story progress, we see that Macbeth’s ambition drove him to suspect and killed many in order to maintain his throne, but he was not able to live a contented life, instead he loses his wife and suffers through a life full of guilt and shame.
We know that without ambition, one will not succeed in life because ambition makes everything seem possible to achieve. But we also know that one should be contented when making choices rather than being overly paranoid and not being to trust the people around them. Both Oedipus and Macbeth are ambitious leaders, but when trying too hard to achieve the impossible by having too much ambition, they ended up hurting the people around them, which leads to their demises. For Oedipus who thinks he’s perfect at everything, but only sees things on its surface rather than in depth, ended up living in agony. For Macbeth, his ambition of being king turned into greed, which causes him to lose all his moral perspective, living in a lonely and devastating life. Therefore, ambition is not harmful only when one is able to limit him/herself from having too much ambition.
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