Ambition, the Oxford Dictionary states is; a strong desire to do or achieve something. There are two sides to the coin of ambition. Ambition can be hubris and associated with greed and arrogance. This side of the coin can be defined as the excessive desire for more than is needed or deserved, not for the greater good but for own selfish interest. On the other side of the coin, you have moral ambition which is based on your human ethics and moral principles that govern your behaviour. The differences between these can be seen when we study the themes within; Macbeth by William Shakespear, Ozymandius by Percy Bysshe Shelley, Gattaca by Andrew Niccol and the autobiography My Name Is Malala by Malala Yousafzia and co-written by Christina Lamb. The texts of Macbeth and Ozymandius explore the side of hubris ambition and Gattaca and My Name Is Malala analyse the side of moral ambition.
In William Shakespear’s text of Macbeth, the vaulting ambition Macbeth detains drives him to a point of insanity. At the beginning of the play, Macbeth’s conscience was in conflict with his ambition. However outside factors greatly influenced Macbeth’s naked ambition. The Witches prophesy and Lady Macbeth feeding his guilt and fears played on his true nature and eventually, his ambition got the better of him. “I am in blood Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er” -Macbeth. The temptation to become king lead, Macbeth, to follow blindly in the footsteps of his hubris ambition. Macbeth got lead so far into greed, by his ambition, that it is now impossible for him to return to sanity. “Fear not, Macbeth. No man that’s born of woman shall e’er have power upon thee”- Macbeth. You believe what you want to believe because it affirms what you desire. The Witches prophesy intrigued Macbeth to do anything possible to gain the throne. Macbeth slaughtered many, including some of his most loyal associate, to get what he wanted most, power. Macbeth’s intent became nothing but personal gain. Ambition becomes destructive when it trumps over your own human ethics. The killing of his best friend, King Duncan, went against all of Macbeth’s morals and in return came to destruct Macbeth. Macbeth believed that nothing could stop him, that nothing could cease his dictatorship. When the witches apparitions told him to be careful of his enemies and those around him his hubris grew. Macbeth went to great lengths to ensure he would never lose his power and in return eventually ruined everything that was important to him. Macbeth’s hubris ambition lead to his gain of the throne but his endeavours to have power also lead to his downfall.
In the poem, Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley the ambition of King Ozymandius is the same hubris ambition that Macbeth possesses. Ozymandius thinks considerably high of himself and of what he has achieved both politically and artistically. “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings: Look on my works, ye mighty and despair”- Ozymandias. Ozymandias narcism and his restless ambition of supremacy and immorality lead to his downfall, just as it did for Macbeth. “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert… near them, on the sand, Half sunk, a shattered visage lies”- Travler. In Shelley’s “Ozymandias” and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” both their greed for power brought them to the same end. In the end, you are not remembered for how powerful and dominant you were, you are remembered by how you treat those around you. The ruined statue of Ozymandias is now merely a monument of what hubris ambition does to a man. Power is transitory and life is fleeting. When Ozymandias was at the climax of his power he had the statue made. But over time the Kings life and power dismantled, just as the state did. No matter how powerful one believes him/herself to be, power fades and life ends and the only thing that remains is memories people bear of you. No matter how powerful you are, you will eventually lie in the dust, just as Ozymandias is. Hubris ambition is destructive and therefore destructs those around us. The Kings decaying statue represents the influence Ozymandias had on his associates. The uncared for statue lies destroyed, just as the King’s hubris ambition to become powerful destroyed others.
In the film Gattaca by Andrew Niccol, the ambition of Vincent Freeman is not destructive, as his success does not come at the expense of others. We can argue that nothing truly great happens without ambition but that does not mean that you have to harm others to be ambitious. Vincent’s ambition is a perfect example of how ambition can drive you to accomplish great things, without being destructive towards others. Vincent’s ambition is based on his morals and ethics despite the unethical world he lives in. He comes to succeed not because he was hubris but because his ambition did not have a direct negative impact on anyone else. “Luckier than most, not as lucky as some”- Vincent. Vincent didn’t let his eugenics hold him back as long as his ambition didn’t do a disservice to anybody else. Vincent entered into a mutually beneficial agreement with Jerome as a way of achieving his goal. “I got the better end of the deal. I only leant you my body. You leant me your dream”-Jerome. This is in direct contrast to Macbeth’s and Ozymandias. Vincent succeeds where the others did not as his legacy was left to inspire others.
In the autobiography My Name Is Malala, written by Malala Yousafzia and co-written by Christina Lamb, Malala is an example of moral ambition based on an outcome for the greater good. Similar to Vincent, Malala was born in a position of disadvantage and discrimination. She was born female. Through being born a woman she was destined to have no greater ambition than to serve her husband, as her mother did. Malala’s greatest fortune was having her father champion for her cause. However, it was her ambition to change her predestined future at risk to her own life, not just for herself but for all girls in Parkastain and beyond, who were denied their right education. Despite being shot by the Taliban Malala maintained her fight for women’s educational rights. “I raise my voice, not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard… We can not succeed if half of us are held back”-Malala. Malala then went on to be the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize at the age of seventeen. Malala’s ambition is a perfect example of how ambition can help us to flourish and contribute to the flourishing of others. Malalas’s ambition was based on her strong morals and went on to help and give hope to women all over the world, in contrast to an ambition that destructs and destroys in order to be performed. It’s interesting to note in these examples that with Macbeth and Ozymandius, both born privileged, had ambition which was created from greed and destructed those around them. Whereas Vincent and Malala who were born disadvantaged had an ambition which in return advantaged those around them.
In life few things are either good or bad, it is what we choose to make them to be. Ambition is a powerful concept that can create amazing outcomes but can also hurt others along its ambitious path. Ambition itself is not dangerous its what we decided to do with our ambition that creates harm. Our ambition can be either harmful or beneficial to others, aswell as ourselves.