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Images of Masculinity and Femininity in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Images of Masculinity and Femininity in Macbeth

Lady Macbeth does not have the traditional role of ‘mother’, ‘daughter’, or ‘wife’ but ‘partner’. Macbeth’s letter refers to her as: ‘My dearest partner in greatness..’ I (v) In spite of his military culture, Macbeth perceives Lady Macbeth as an equal, it would seem in all things; his political life, his career, his personal life; i.e. she is his significant other. Noticeably the emphasis is on ‘him’. Lady Macbeth lacks status of her own, as did all women in this era as ‘status’ could only be derived from one’s husband or father.

The doctrine Macbeth adopts goes against all the conventional ideas of how a female should be regarded by a male. In the Renaissance era the division of the sexes were so vast, but Lady Macbeth resists persistently even when Macbeth dismisses her: ‘We will proceed no further in this business:’ (I vii 32) To resist what Macbeth says on whatever grounds, is not to be a woman at all. A woman is supposed to be weak, frail and submissive to male desires and certainly not supposed to debate effectively with her husband. But Lady Macbeth does reject the ‘woman’s’ role – as defined by men.

One could be forgiven for thinking of Lady Macbeth as the only female worth studying in Macbeth as the other female characters have such minor roles. But I believe the witches are of importance when examining femininity. They are the first characters we set eyes upon and every event in the play is indirectly controlled or caused by them. This is surely a very powerful role.

Witches allegedly foretold the future and served the devil. So Macbeth’s apparent fear and belief in their prophecy was undermining ecclesiastical authority. He takes great heed of …

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…ve spent the rest of his life feeling he had failed as a man, such was the importance of images of masculinity.

‘Bring forth men-children only’ (Macbeth 1:7:72)

Works Cited

Shakespeare Macbeth; Arden

Georges Duby and Michelle Perrot, Natalie Zemon Davis and Arlette Farge

A History of Women; Belknap Havard

Bruce R Smith Homosexual Desire in Shakespeare’s England; University of Chicago Press

Callaghan, Dympna. Woman and Gender in Renaissance Tragedy. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press International, Inc., 1989

Johannes Fabricus Alchemy: the medevial alchemists and their royal lust; Diamond Books 1994

Novy, Marianne. Love’s Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1984

Eros and magic in the Renaissance; University of Chicgo Press 1987

Promoting Family Values in Macbeth

Promoting Family Values in Macbeth

The play Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, was first printed in 1623, and is a play that is confrontational and disturbing to the values of the audience. Values such as truth, masculinity, security and goodness are all implied in the play, as their opposites are shown to be destructive and life shattering.

Of all of Shakespeare’s plays, Macbeth is the one most obsessively concerned with evil. It is dark, brooding and bloodthirsty; by way of illustration, the only function of the messenger to Lady MacDuff is to prepare the audience for bloodshed. Blood in itself is considered an evil image and it aids in character development, as seen in the description of Macbeth at the start. According to Duncan, gutting someone like a fish is worthy of praise such as “Oh valiant cousin, Oh worthy Gentleman!” To the people of the age, being able to kill someone with such skill is a good thing… of course, it does mean that Macbeth has the potential to snap. The evil imagery in the play also helps with the rising tension – the old man’s description of the horses devouring each other is a prime example of this.

Macbeth himself is essentially evil as well; when he knows he is going to die, instead of taking the honorable way out by committing suicide he decides to take as many people with him as he can. It is somewhat ironic therefore that “Macbeth” means “son of life”.

The evil that Macbeth and Lady Macbeth create within themselves means that the audience is made to experience the psychological emptiness involved in committing a murder. Evil is inevitably destructive, but it is also self-destructive. By murdering Duncan, Macbeth is destroying himself; his “single state of man” is shaken by his…

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…elm. Criticism on Shakespeare s Tragedies . A Course of Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature. London: AMS Press, Inc., 1965.

Shakespeare, William. Tragedy of Macbeth . Ed. Barbara Mowat and Paul Warstine. New York: Washington Press, 1992.

Steevens, George. Shakespeare, The Critical Heritage. Vol. 6. London: Routledge

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