NCEA 1.8 – Significant Connections. Ambition

The human quality of ambition is a useful tool that writers and film creators manipulate to tell a story. The dictionary defines ambition as “a strong desire to do or achieve something”. Ambition is shown to be the cause of both good and evil occurrences, and I will be discussing how different texts in literature and film represent this factor of ambition by using their characters.

The sonnet, Ozymandias, written by Percy Bysshe Shelley tells the story of an ambitious king overcome with hubris. The poem begins with the poet meeting a foreign traveller that describes the broken statue of a fallen king, Ozymandias in the desert  “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert. . . Near them, on the sand, half sunk a shattered visage lies. . .”. The king shows ambition to be remembered in history based on the traveller’s retailing. In this poem, Shelley utilizes his character Ozymandias to show that some forms of ambition can cause demise rather than the achievement of one’s goals. An example that shows that the king desired to be commemorated is;  “And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”. In the quote, it tells that the king saw himself as powerful and important when the reality is that his statue is broken and crumbling in the desert, forgotten by all. Ozymandias’s ambition to be recognized is a selfish desire that he will do anything to ensure he achieves, the king goes so far to instill fear in his people. Shelley makes clear of this fact and writes “… whose frown and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command”  describing the king’s broken statue, to make certain the reader knows that Ozymandias was so invested in being remembered that he had the sculptor make him look formidable. The character of the King, Ozymandias demonstrates the result of having ambition with only selfish goals.

Similar to Ozymandias, Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare uses selfish ambition within his characters to progress his story. The tragedy displays Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, driven by their want for power. Infamously ambitious, Lady Macbeth takes a dark turn when her husband tells her of a possibility of her becoming the next Queen of Scotland. She takes it upon herself to secure that position by manipulating her husband into completing what she believes, needs to be done. She goes as far as to call upon evil spirits to possess her and give her the strength she requires “Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here; and fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full of direst cruelty”. This shows the determination and commitment she has to attain her objective. Shakespeare skillfully employs Lady Macbeth’s unwavering ambition for power and status to show an example of the evil occurrences that unfold when goals are achieved by means of lying, manipulation, and murder. Another example that proves her corrupted ambition is that throughout the story she uses her own husband to get what she wants. She constantly takes advantage of his weak will by stating things such as “Thou’rt mad to say it.” and “Infirm of purpose!”. Ultimately calling him mad and useless. She willingly dismisses her role “wife” and takes the strong lead in the relationship; very rare for the time she is written in. Lady Macbeth manages to achieve her goal but becomes overwhelmed with the guilt of the actions she has taken and as a result, commits suicide to ease her troubled mind “The queen, my lord, is dead”.

Gattaca, the 1997 movie by Andrew Niccol, also has a character driven solely by ambition. Similar to the other texts, the character Vincent Freeman, uses ambition for selfish desires and will go to great lengths to accomplish his goals. In Gattaca, those that aren’t genetically modified before birth are considered “Invalid” and have fewer opportunities. Therefore, Vincent, a “god-child” must possess a new identity, breaking the law.  For Vincent’s dream of going to Space, it is necessary that he breaks laws because of the unjust system he was born into. Due to the prejudice he faces, it allows the extreme actions Vincent takes acceptable. As proof of commitment to his goals, Vincent teams up with Jerome Morrow, a genetically perfect individual crippled in a suicide attempt, and uses his DNA to begin working at Gattaca Aerospace Corporation. Everyday Vincent goes through a meticulous routine of scrubbing off dead skin cells and using samples of Jerome’s urine and blood to avoid detection. Creator, Andrew Niccol, displays the positive result of a character using ambition righteously. Vincent has all the odds stacked against him, including his genetic code, but because of ambition with determination, he fulfils his dream. Vincent demonstrates this determination when he is challenging his genetically superior brother “You want to know how I did it? This is how I did it, Anton; I never saved anything for the swim back.” 

The Help, contrary to the other texts contains a character that uses her ambition to help others. In Kathryn Stockett’s 2009 book, The Help, aspiring writer Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan applies her knowledge and platform to further her career, but also to give the oppressed black maids a voice. The novel is set during the early 1960s in Jackson, Mississippi. As written, many of these women experience poor treatment and discrimination. Skeeter begins to notice this and the racism prevalent in her childhood friend, Hilly Hillbrook. Skeeter, driven by the thought of change decides to act on this opportunity. One day when at a high society bridge game, Hilly discusses her plan to make separate bathrooms for “the help” mandatory within earshot of maid, Aibileen Clark. Later, Skeeter approaches Aibileen and apologizes on behalf of Hilly, and also states “Do you ever wish you could…change things?”. This statement enlists Aibileen to help Skeeter with her book about the mistreatment of maids. Skeeter’s ambition to change the status quo and help those around her, she receives support in return. Stockett exhibits the good occurrences that can come with ambition. In learning about what the maids go through, Skeeter’s drive to become an accomplished female author also turns into aspirations of being educated in segregation and the systems that oppress African-Americans. She is ambitious and brave enough to risk being discovered by the white population of the town to do this  “…I realized I actually had a choice in what I could believe.”

In conclusion, it is evident from these texts that those that use ambition with morality are able to not only achieve their goal but ultimately end up happier and more successful. The above-mentioned authors and creators all cleverly applied their extremely different characters to tell varying versions of ambition.

NCEA Formal Writing 1.5, Literary Essay

How does Shakespeare exploit the conventions of language and theatre to fill his play from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty – and moreover, why is this so essential to the universal meaning of the play?

In the play, Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare, many language effects are used to display the universal meaning of the play. The idea that Shakespeare was attempting to convey was Macbeth’s deterioration of the mind. The most notable devices utilized are metaphors, hyperbole, and personification. With the application of these tools, Shakespeare is able to produce a well-structured script that leaves an impression on the history of literature.

Shakespeare uses the relationship between metaphors and the play, Macbeth to demonstrate a deeper meaning in his tragedy. Metaphors are a word or phrase that are often symbolic of something else. Throughout Macbeth, the reader is presented with many metaphors to provoke understanding of Macbeth’s mind, or rather the deterioration of it. A sentence is stated showing Macbeth’s interpretation of that thing or person, revealing his damaged perception of the world around him. An example of a metaphor presented in Macbeth is in Act Three, Scene Two. Macbeth discusses his suspicions to Lady Macbeth that Banquo knows that he had killed King Duncan. He compares Banquo to a snake “We have scorched the snake, not killed it”.  Banquo is the snake in the grass that will bite (or reveal) Macbeth if he steps too heavily, or in other words; takes advantage of the Witches predictions. Shakespeare uses a metaphor in this scenario to show Macbeth’s beginning skepticism about those around him. Macbeth then goes on to arrange Banquo’s death, to ease his inessential suspicions. Shakespeare applies metaphors in Macbeth so he can represent an idea while remaining rhythmical (following the Iambic Pentameter) without becoming too literal in his script. It is through Because of Shakespeare’s successful use of metaphors the reader is able to see the darkness building in Macbeth leading to his hopelessness and madness. Another example of a metaphor is in Act Five, Scene Five. Macbeth has just been told that his wife, Lady Macbeth, has died; we assume from suicide. His response is the iconic soliloquy describing his view on the triviality of life. In this, the metaphor “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more” is written. Macbeth is comparing life to an actor that performs worryingly on a stage for a short time, then is immediately forgotten or not heard of again. Shakespeare writes this is the form of a metaphor because he is imagining the script being performed on a stage, and so he is being ironic while also enabling Macbeth to show that he has deteriorated into a depressive state of mind. Shakespeare intentions when applying metaphors was to allow the reader to see how Macbeth views the world, therefore revealing his inner thought process.

In Macbeth, hyperboles are commonly used from some of the central characters to add excitement and tension to the play. Hyperbole is the act of exaggerating a statement for dramatic purposes. Macbeth is known for his use of hyperboles and unnecessary over-the-top behaviour throughout the play. He uses them to demonstrate his emotions in larger scale, but it also displays to the reader his lack of control over his feelings. After Macbeth successfully kills King Duncan he reunites with Lady Macbeth to confirm he has done the deed. Noticeably he has blood on his hands and when washing them, he utters: “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red”. Translating to ‘Can the ocean truly clean these hands? No, I’d turn the sea red with the blood’. This is hyperbole because he exaggerating the amount of gore present, he believes it to be worse than it actually is. Shakespeare cleverly utilizes hyperboles to the play and to the title character, Macbeth to show how his state of mind progressively worsens and the effect that his paranoia has on the people who were once considered trusted friends. The effects Macbeth’s actions have on these people, perfectly display the effective use of hyperboles. In Act Four, Scene Three, Malcolm and Macduff are planning to take back the throne of Scotland from Macbeth. In their conversations, Malcolm, who has just learnt that his family has been murdered by Macbeth, says “This tyrant, whose sole name blisters our tongues”. This is hyperbole because simply saying Macbeth’s name will not cause physical harm. But Malcolm says this to put emphasize of Macbeth’s awfulness and actions. The reader is able to understand Macbeth’s damaged condition because of Shakespeare’s intentional use of hyperboles.

In his tragedy, Macbeth, Shakespeare manipulates personification to progress the story and character. Personification is the language device of giving human attributes or characteristics to something that is not human. Personification is commonly used in stories and poems to give a non-human character or object the ability to relate, this language device often enables the reader to sympathize with something they otherwise wouldn’t. In Act Two, Scene One the reader is given the first glimpse of what will begin a downward spiral in Macbeth. He is having his final thoughts before fulfilling his wife’s wish of killing Duncan when he sees an apparition of a dagger in front of him. “The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still”. He refers to the dagger as ‘thee’, translating to ‘you’ in modern language. He calls the inanimate object a ‘you’ because he feels a strong human connection with it. This shows Macbeth’s dawning insanity because not only is he seeing something that is not there, but he is giving it a human pronoun. Personification can also be used to show madness in humans that see lifeless objects in an unorthodox way. Shakespeare takes advantage of this aspect of personification to show the interplay between reality and Macbeth’s form of reality. Macbeth’s reality is that he is immortal because of what the witches told him, but by believing this he is taking away the human tradition of death, dehumanizing himself. To compensate; Macbeth personifies insentient things. After committing the act of murdering his longtime friend and King while he slept, Macbeth shows regret in his actions and expresses this to Lady Macbeth. He believes he heard someone say “Sleep no more! Macbeth doth murder sleep”. In his worries, he personifies sleep because he believes that he also killed sleep as well as Duncan. This is personification because sleep is something that cannot be murdered, but Macbeth declares it as so because of the remorse he feels. Shakespeare uses personification to provoke sympathy from the reader towards Macbeth, although he does not subjectively deserve it.

Shakespeare operates metaphors, hyperboles and personification in Macbeth to illustrate his character’s deteriorating state of mind throughout his journey in becoming of Scotland. These language devices put importance on the script and make the reader more aware of what is being stated. This reflects the intelligent thought process of Willian Shakespeare.

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