Monday, August 25, 2014


QUESTIONS to consider:

How does Shakespeare play with gender roles in Macbeth?

Lady Macbeth tries to take on the masculine characteristics to make herself a stronger person, and in doing so, she belittles Macbeth by attacking his own masculinity - a reversal in gender roles.


Lady Macbeth is the focus of much of the exploration of gender roles in Macbeth. As Lady Macbeth propels her husband toward murdering King Duncan, she indicates that she must take on masculine characteristics. Her most famous speech addresses this issue. In Act 1, Scene 5, after reading Macbeth's letter in which he details the witches' prophecy and informs her of Duncan's impending visit to their castle, Lady Macbeth indicates her desire to lose her feminine qualities and gain masculine ones. She cries, "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" (1.5.38-41).

Clearly, gender is out of its traditional order. This disruption of gender roles is also presented through Lady Macbeth's usurpation of the dominant role in the Macbeth's marriage; on many occasions, she rules her husband and dictates his actions. This, of course, disrupts the Great Chain of Being which operated in Shakespearean times--the woman was to be subservient to the husband, yet Macbeth does not put her in her place, rather he says to his wife: "Bring forth men-children only/For thy undaunted mettle should compose/Nothing but males." (1.5.80-83) (Consider that Lady Macbeth does not have children--the only way for her to gain status as a woman would be with a title. Keeping royal blood in the family was very important--very relevant at the time).

This disruption of gender roles is also represented in the weird sisters. The trio is perceived as violating nature, and despite their designation as sisters, the gender of these characters is also ambigious. Upon encountering them, Banquo says, "You should be women,And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/That you are so" (1.2.45-47) Their facial hair symbolises their influence in the affairs of the male-dominated warrior society of Scotland at the time. The question of the witches' gender is a device Shakespeare uses to criticise the male-dominated culture.

Lady MacDuff is the opposing example of a woman--good versus Lady Macbeth's and the witches' evil. Lady MacDuff's home is the opposite to the Macbeth's. She plays the expected role of the time--a home-maker who cares for her children. When she is told that MacDuff has disappeared, her response is an emotional one of believing that is because he does not love them anymore. On the other hand, Lady Macbeth's harsh front is made more extreme when she is regarded next to the saintly Lady MacDuff.


Throughout Shakespeare's play we see that Macbeth is the victim of evil seduction by women. He is perplexed by the witches: "...My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, Shakes so my single state of man that function is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is But what it is not." (1.3.140-143)

Lady Macbeth also plays a strong role in his moral corruption. Her instigation of supernatural power all combine to crush Macbeth's better nature. Do you think Macbeth would even have thought of killing Duncan if it were not for the influences of the witches and his wife?

Historically, men have been corrupted by women--from the time of Adam and Eve.

Lady Macbeth's actions parallel those of the witches. The witches planted the idea that Macbeth should become king. Lady Macbeth followed through with this idea by pushing Macbeth to kill Duncan. There is definitely an evil connection between the witches and Lady Macbeth.

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