McElroy, Bernard. "Macbeth: The Torture of the Mind."
Shakespeare's Mature Tragedies. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1973. 206-237.

Thesis: In the opening words of his book McElroy makes his general thesis clear. He writes,

     For all their diversity in tone and subject matter, Shakespeare's four mature tragedies, Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, and Macbeth, all embody at least one essential experience in common, the collapse of the subjective world of the tragic hero. By this I mean that the world-picture of each of the title characters is undermined at a fundamental level; his most basic assumptions about who he is and what reality is are rendered untenable, and he must struggle to reconstruct his total vision upon some new basis. . . . With his subjective world in ruins, the hero undergoes a period of extreme disorientation, a dislodgment which in Lear's case precipitates total psychic dissolution. From the low-point of such mental chaos, each must struggle to impose cohesion upon his personal world, and, in the interim, each faces the same basic problem, how to endure what is, for him, simply unendurable.
      But it makes no sense to study the tragic hero's apprehension of the world without also studying the world apprehended; and, indeed, each of these plays does delineate a "world," a highly distinct, self-contained version of reality.  (3)
In the opening section of his chapter on Macbeth, McElroy says of the hero,
In the aftermath of an irrevocable act, he finds himself irrevocably committed to world-view in which he does not believe. The key to his savagery, and, even more, to the soul-sickness that elevates him to tragedy, is that he must proceed as if the self-delusion were true, when in his mind and heart he knows that it is not. This constant lying to himself, and the discrepancy between his beliefs and the world that he has chosen for himself, produce the self-loathing and the numbing sense of loss that are the essence of his tragedy.  (206-207)
The chapter then examines the characteristics of the "Macbeth-world" under the following headings: Nature seems dead, 'Twere best not to know myself, Witchcraft celebrates, and This even-handed justice. These sections occupy about half of the chapter. In the other half, McElroy examines the evolution of Macbeth's character.

Evaluation: McElroy is very persuasive. One passage which I found particularly convincing is the following, about the nature of Macbeth's "ambition":

In conventionally ambitious men, anticipation of the fruits of crime blunts the sensibilities to the crime itself. But Macbeth is just the opposite of this; he scarcely gives a thought to the spoils that will proceed from the act and keeps his attention unwaveringly upon the act itself; and his attitude toward the object of his fixation is mixed attraction and repulsion. His repulsion springs from the deeply moral side of his nature. No other character is so acutely aware of himself as living in the eye of heaven. When he looks into himself and finds there inclinations that are anything but celestial, he is frightened and revolted, and he extends his abhorrence of his own instinct to heaven nature:
                  Stars, hide your fires;
Let not light see my black and deep desires.
The eye wink at the hand.
Yet on the heels of this can come a reassertion of the impulse to terrible and forbidden action: "yet let that be / Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see" (52-53). It is the very fearfulness of the deed that seems to exert the strongest attraction for him, since it calls for a degree of resolution and daring quite beyond the slaying of rebels. For Macbeth, action is self-definition; he is revolted by the act, but tantalized by the possibility of doing exactly that which is most expressly forbidden by all laws, sacred and humane. He dares to kill his king not so much to become king himself as to become the man who dared to do it.  (220)
I think this is the most accurate view of Macbeth's ambition.

My only objection to McElroy's treatment of the play is his consistently dismissive view of the forces of justice. He considers Malcolm and Macduff to be puny opponents to Macbeth and says of the final triumph of justice: "Its pyrrhic victory is retributive but not redemptive" (237). I don't see how the victory of justice is "pyrrhic"; the butcher is dead and Malcolm is king.

Bottom Line: Highly recommended.