Ambition is powerful, dangerous, beautiful, damaging, and inspiring all at once. Ambition takes many shapes and forms and therefore is completely different for everyone. Some people are born with a natural powerful ambition while others struggle to strive for anything, but the one thing we know for sure is that without ambition no one would strive for personal success, make goals and work to achieve them, or even just learn something new. In attempt to further understand the true nature of ambition I have chosen four texts (Macbeth – Shakespeare, Hamilton – Lin-Manuel Miranda, Ozymandias – Percy Shelley, Gattaka – Andrew Niccols) that follow an ambitious theme. These texts all explore ambition but in different forms and to different extends, this supports the idea that ambition is different for everyone and that there are many different types of ambition.
Macbeth written by Shakespeare is globally recognised as a tale about a dark ambition. The story follows Macbeth’s dire ambition of becoming king and over ruling Scotland but more specifically the journey he takes mentally as his ambition grows. Macbeth starts with a sane ambition, with sane reasoning but as his greed grows so does his menacing thoughts and dark vision. The famous ‘Scottish tragedy’ follows the consequences derived from an unhealthy ambition. One that imposes harm on others and deteriorates Macbeth’s mental stability. The main message conveyed in the play is that ambitions can be both good and bad. The immediate association with the word ‘ambition’ is generally good, resonating hopeful positive projections for ones future, but Macbeth challenges this link. Ambition can just as easily be bad as it is good. This switch can be seen in the final moments of act 1 when Macbeth says “False face must hide what false heart doth know.” Macbeth wants to become king but the only way he believes this is possible is to perform an act of pure evil (killing king Duncan). His good sense and sane mind convinces him not to fulfil his ambition, but his wife has different plans. Her murderous, and dark intentions influence Macbeth’s decision and when saying this quote he has decided he will kill the king despite the deed going against his moral beliefs. The quote shows that Macbeth will put up a front to hide his immoral plans (“False face must hide”). While also lying to his heart (“false heart doth know”), because if he was listens to his heart he can’t fulfil his ambition. Macbeth’s ambition is too strong and therefore over rides his beliefs. This example shows that ambitions can be both good and bad as Macbeth’s ambition quickly grew into a powerful weapon of destruction. His danger to himself and to others only grows as they play advances with him saying “Oh, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!”. By him metaphorically comparing his current mental state to a poison insect we know that his ambition no longer has any good – it’s drowned in evil. Macbeth is an ambitious character and the text as a whole validates the idea that ambition is different for everyone.
Another text that follows the ambitions of a driven character is the musical Hamilton by Lin Manuel – Miranda. This text links to Macbeth as the two central characters (Hamilton + Macbeth) both have a strong ambition that over rules common scene, love, and human sanity. Hamilton’s ambition of being remembered, making a change and always being more than enough and Macbeth’s ambition of being king both control the characters every move. Both texts explore the idea of having an ambition so strong you can’t control it. That sometimes we become so consumed in our ambitions that we get lost in our own lives and lose grip on reality, most importantly the things that mean the most to us (family, friends, experiencing and living our best lives). The two characters ambitions give them a scene of purpose and achievement but also a list of consequences, and as their ambition gets stronger the consequences multiply. This concept helps us conclude that ambitions can be extremely controlling and overbearing at times and this can be seen clearly in both texts. In Hamilton the line “They think me Macbeth, ambition is my folly” is sung by Hamilton in the song ‘Take a break’ and directly addresses the link between the two characters (Macbeth and Hamilton). By saying his “ambition is my folly” we know that it’s a part of him that he can’t control. It’s to strong to tame. It’s important to also add that both characters (Macbeth + Hamilton) die at the end of the text because of their ambitions. This again shows how vulnerable they are and how controlling ambitions can be. The quote “There’s a million things I haven’t done, just you wait” sung by Hamilton in ‘Alexandra Hamilton’ emphasises Hamiltons need to achieve above whats expected and from this we can understand that to Hamilton success and accomplishment are like drugs he can’t live without. The text Hamilton clearly shows how overpowering ambitions can be and again emphasises how ambitions are very much a powerful thing that everyone experiences to different extents.
The next text following an ambitious theme is the poem Ozymandias by Percy Shelly. The theme of this text is ones perception of their own power and how ambition can lead to hubris. This poem follows the story of an ancient king (Ozymandias) and how his grand ambitions lead to a false perception of his own importance. He became to powerful for his own good and this can be seen in the quote “And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read”. This quote tells us that the king was demanding of his people and had an arrogant attitude which was reflected in the way he treated others. He saw himself as exceedingly superior. This brings about another side to a successful ambition – hubris. This is yet another consequence of ambition, like Macbeth, where it’s good for humans to have ambitions but some develop into dangerous illusions of the mind. It’s possible to hold power over others, and this is generally a result of ambition, but it’s also possible to become to powerful. When one becomes to powerful their hubris tends to take it’s toll. No matter how hard we resist it, our power as humans is transient, and this text links to Hamilton as it discusses the only defier of ambitious power – death. When Hamilton and Ozymandias die their power/work struggles to be remembered despite all they did when they were alive. Hamilton was typically praised, while Ozymandias was feared, but it all becomes dust when the physical person is gone. Hamilton’s wife, Eliza, tries to keep his work and eternal imagination and intelligence alive, but eventually comprehends that “you have no control, who live, who dies, who tells your story” – Washington (‘History has it’s eyes on you’ – Hamilton). When your time is up it’s up and you can no longer control who or how people perceive you. This quote from Hamilton clearly outlines that when your deceased it’s the strength of your power due to your original ambition that determines whether or not your remembered. The quote “Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare…” from Ozymandias also illustrates this idea. The kings labours tried to memorialise his power but because his hubris was remarkably ill-favoured as shown in the quote (“colossal wreck”) the statue stands withdrawn from society. Never to be admire, feared or remembered again. Ambition only holds strength when in action, when it’s dead it lies dormant and eventually inactive to the present world.
The film Gattaka by Andrew Niccol is the fourth and final text that questions the true nature of ambition. This texts shows a side to ambition that hasen’t been explored in the other texts – having a strong ambition but not the physical ability to achieve it. In the film we are presented with two worlds. Jerome’s – with all the ideal physical capabilities of achieving highly, but no ambitious drive or wantingness to better ones self. Vincents’s – with struggles physically, and is isolated because if his genetic makeup, but has the strongest and most driven drive of them all. This texts demonstrates or brings to light the struggle one must face in order to fulfil their ambitions. Without struggle there’s no success, and without success there would be no ambition because what would we all be striving for? This is a crucial factor of ambition that is commonly missed in our everyday life. Many try to short-cut their way to success, but there is no such thing. The only reason success feels so good is because we have to struggle, fight hard, and persevere to achieve it. “I never saved anything for the swim back” is said by Vincent in the film and shows that the only way Vincent managed to defy the expectation put upon him was to keep going and going with one mindset telling him he was almost there, he was almost there. If you have an ambition so strong but aren’t ‘ideal’ for the job, never give up, because you just don’t know whats around the next corner. The film Gattaca links to Ozymandias as both authors/script writers play with the idea of isolation due to ambition. This isolation is shown through the use of imagery. In Ozyamandias “Round the decay, Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away” is said and creates a strong image in the readers head of a large damaged statue standing in a vast lonely desert. The use of alliteration the words “lone and level” give the line a distant and remote tone. This reflects Ozymandias isolation due to his ambition and undesirable power. Imagery is used in Gattaca to show Vincent’s isolation because of his ambition too. The spiral staircase in Vincent and Jerome’s house replicates that of a genetic DNA strand. This can represent Vincent’s personal struggle of defying his genetics, and can be seen at 1 hour, 19 minets, and 15 seconds into the film when the authorities are coming to Vincent and Jerome’s house. Jerome (who is paralysed from the hips down) desperately pulls himself up the stairs using only his arms to save Vincent’s ambition from being destroyed. The stairs are used in this tense scene as a hint that Vincent’s dream is on the line, and holds the question of, can Jerome’s genetics save it? This also shows yet another side to ambition – helping others achieve their ambition if you can’t achieve your own. Jerome has no ambitious drive to strive for more and he was on the verge of ending his life before deciding to us his advantage (DNA/genetic makeup) to help Vincent achieve his dream of going to space. This illustrates that not all of us have the want or need to fulfil our ambitions, but can guide those that do. “He had everything except desire.” is said by Vincent. In this quote he his referring to Jerome and how he was a perfect fit, he had everything he could possibly need, but had no “desire” to succeed and as we know from above “desire” is a crucial part of ambition. Percy Shelly and Andrew Niccol were both very clever when deciding to use imagery to show the characters isolation as it enables the viewers/readers to use a wider knowledge of thinking to comprehend the message being portrayed. This text shows once again that ambition is different for everyone and can’t fit under one label.
In summary the four texts, Macbeth from Shakespeare, Hamilton from Lin Manuel – Miranda, Ozymandias from Percy Shelly, and Gattca from Andrew Niccol, all prove that ambition comes in different shapes and forms and is different for everyone. The texts all followed ambitious themes but discussed different challenges or confrontations as a result of ambition. This study has broadened my understanding of the true nature of ambition and I have come to the conclusion that ambition is what gets you started, but it’s you do with that ambition and how determined and perserverent you are that determines how far and in what direction the ambition takes.