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Changing Gender Roles in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Changing Gender Roles in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Much attention has been paid to the theme of “manliness” as it appears throughout Macbeth. In his introduction to Macbeth in The Riverside Shakespeare, Frank Kermode contends that the play is “about the eclipse of civility and manhood, [and] the temporary triumph of evil” (1307). Stephen Greenblatt emphasizes the same idea in The Norton Shakespeare, crediting Lady Macbeth for encouraging her husband through both “sexual taunting” and “the terrible force of her determination” (2557-58). Macbeth responds to his wife with “a clear sense of the proper boundaries of his identity as a male and as a human being, [telling her] ‘I dare do all that may become a man;/Who dares do more is none’ (I.7.46-47)” (2558). Both Kermode’s and Greenblatt’s notions focus upon how Macbeth’s masculinity is recognized and defined — by Macbeth himself as well as by the potentially influential people who surround him. The critics who introduce the play in these major anthologies perceive the same weakness in Macbeth’s character as the apparently evil forces who play upon it do: Macbeth’s masculinity becomes the psychological vehicle through which he becomes incensed, inspired, and finally incited to action.

If Macbeth’s “manliness” is to be questioned, it is not likely to occur within the male-dominated world of battlefields and military victories which Shakespeare introduces in Act I, Scene 2. In this passage, the bleeding Captain praises Macbeth’s heroism, contending

. . . brave Macbeth–well he deserves that name!–

Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel

Which smoked with bloody execution,

Like valour’s minion

Carved out his passage till he faced the slave,

Which ne…

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… Universities Modern Language Association 70 (Nov. 1988): 366-85.

Dolan, Frances. The Taming of the Shrew: Texts and Contexts. Boston: Bedford, 1996.

Greenblatt, Stephen. “Introduction to Macbeth.” The Norton Shakespeare. New York: Norton, 1997. 2555-63.

Hawkins, Michael. “History, politics, and Macbeth.” Focus on Macbeth. Ed. John Russell Brown. London: Routledge, 1982. 155-88.

Kermode, Frank. “Introduction to Macbeth.” The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton, 1974. 1307-11.

Stallybrass, Peter. “Macbeth and Witchcraft.” Focus on Macbeth. Ed. John Russell Brown. London: Routledge, 1982. 189-209.

Williamson, Marily L. “Violence and Gender Ideology.” Shakespeare Left and Right. Ed. Ivo Kamps et al. New York: Routledge, 1991. 157-66.

Winstanley, Lilian. Macbeth, King Lear, and Contemporary History. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1922.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet – The Ambiguity

Hamlet – the Ambiguity

The extent of the ambiguity within William Shakespeare’s drama Hamlet deserves consideration. Literary critics disagree in their assessments of how prevalent the ambiguity is in the work.

Lawrence Danson in the essay “Tragic Alphabet” discusses the equivocation and ambiguity within the play:

Equivocation – the conflict between the reality Hamlet perceives and the language used to describe that reality – has made all expression a matter of mere seeming, and Hamlet knows not seems. His rejection of the Claudian language extends to a rejection of all the symbolic systems that can denote a man. Thus, even his own punning (both verbal and silent) is inadequate: Hamlet chooses “nothing” since he cannot have “all”:

‘Tis not alone my inky cloak, good mother,

Nor customary suits of silent black,

Nor windy suspiration of forc’d breath,

No, nor the fruitful river in the eye,

Nor the dejected haviour in the visage,

Together with all forms, moods, shapes of grief,

That can denote me truly. These, indeed, seem;

For they are actions that a man might play;

But I have that within which passes show –

These but the trappings and the suits of woe. (I.ii.77)

In an ambiguous world, where all is but seeming, and hence misinterpretation, no symbol is successful. (70)

D.G. James says in “The New Doubt” that the Bard has the ambiguous habit of charging a word with several meanings at once:

“Conscience does make cowards of us.” There has been, I am aware, much dispute as to what the word means here. For my part, I find not the least difficulty in believing that the word carries both its usual meaning and that of “reflection an…

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… Impulsive but Earnest Young Aristocrat.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Masks of Hamlet. Newark, NJ: Univ. of Delaware P., 1992.

Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 1995.

West, Rebecca. “A Court and World Infected by the Disease of Corruption.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Court and the Castle. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1957.

Wright, Louis B. and Virginia A. LaMar. “Hamlet: A Man Who Thinks Before He Acts.” Readings on Hamlet. Ed. Don Nardo. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1999. Rpt. from The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Ed. Louis B. Wright and Virginia A. LaMar. N. p.: Pocket Books, 1958.

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