Choyon Uddin
Tara Sarre
13 November 2018
Macbeth is a tragedy about a brave and fearsome Scottish general who’s is prophecy foretold by three witches that he would be next in line for the title of king. Macbeth becomes ambitious seeks the crown through a dark and unforgiving route, this path eventually is what causes his own infamous downfall. Throughout the play, gender is seen to be a major role in setting up acts and scenes in the play, in the sense that female characters have defining characteristics that are traditionally associated with men while the male characters are shown to hold characteristics that are traditional unique to females. Men are traditionally seen as the foundation and source of income in a family and women are generally the ones to look after children and care for them. Women are characterized as emotional, caring and kind while Men are characterized as brave, bold, fearless and strong. In the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare, traditional gender roles are challenged by Lady Macbeth and Macbeth throughout the play.

Macbeth is a great representation of a character challenged by the traditional gender role/view of a male. Macbeth takes on feminine characteristics evidentially at the beginning of the play which are traits generally not associated with men, especially men of the medieval era who were generally seen to be war-breed and ruthless. Barbaric characteristics which should apply to any soldier of any army during that time period. The first piece of evidence that Macbeth takes on a feminine role is during the conception and planning of murdering King Duncan to become king of Scotland.
Macbeth is evidently distraught by the murder and is troubled by the thought even before completing their plan. When talking about King Duncan to Lady Macbeth he says, “The king trusts me in two ways. First of all, I am his kinsman and his subject, so I should always try to protect him. Second, I am his host, so I should be closing the door in his murderer’s face, not trying to murder him myself.” (1.7. 13-17) seeing how hesitant and reluctant he is to betray and proceed with murdering King Duncan shows the audience that Macbeth lacks will and motive for his “ambition”. This is seen as being mainly due to the fact that it would go against his duty as a host and kinsman, however despite this being the “main reason” the audience may interpret this as being a cover for his weakness. Nevertheless, this expands on Macbeth’s weakness to commitment.
The second piece of evidence comes after Macbeth murdered King Duncan in Macbeth’s own home. Macbeth is seen by the audience to be perplexed and emotionally distressed when he returns to Lady Macbeth and informs her about what he has done and how guilty he feels. Macbeth is portrayed as being physical and emotional stress, to the point where he refuses to re-enter the Kind Duncan’s sleeping chamber where he lays dead. This is evident when Macbeth says, “I can’t go back. I’m afraid even to think about what I’ve done. I can’t stand to look at it again.” (2.2. 50-51). Lady Macbeth is ashamed and infuriated by Macbeth’s weakness and his foolishness and even proceeds to insult and scold him. This is seen in the scene in which she scolds Macbeth when he forgets to leave the bloodstained daggers at the scene of the King Duncan’s murder. This is evident when she says, “Coward! Give me the daggers. Dead and sleeping people can’t hurt you any more than pictures can. Only children are afraid of scary pictures.” (2.2. 52-55). These quotes show the audience how Macbeth has become afraid of his own actions and is cowering down to the point where he is seen as a small child. Macbeth could not bear to will himself to collect the daggers and hide them from the scene of the crime because he wanted to be part of his crime no more and retreat to his “innocence”. His display of fear is seen as a weakness to others and had he ever acted like this in public, he would be made a fool of. Macbeth is displaying characteristics of fear when approached by the topic of death, which are not typically not associated with soldiers but to housewives in the medieval era.
The finally piece of evidence that Macbeth displays characteristics not associated to man is when he is reluctant to fight Macduff. When Macduff finally arrives in the castle to kill Macbeth for his crimes against the crown and for killing Macduff’s family as well as his kinsman, Macbeth states that only a man not woman born would be able to beat him. Macduff responds by saying he born through c-section. Following this statement, Macbeth is shocked and attempts to refrain from combat and flee. This is evident when Macbeth says, “Accursed be that tongue that tells me so, For it hath cow’d my better part of man! And be these juggling fiends no more believed, That palter with us in a double sense; That keep the word of promise to our ear, And break it to our hope. I’ll not fight with thee” (5.8.17-22). This quote shows how Macbeth is abandoning all of masculinity as he does not wish to fight for his life anymore knowing that he may lose. Macbeth is seen as a prideless coward by Macduff and the audience and all respect that anyone had for him or he for himself, had been cast away. A man in medieval times and even nowadays fight for their pride and their own lives as well as others’ lives no matter what the outcome, predetermined or not. The audience also sees Macduff as a metaphor and symbol in his battle with Macbeth. He is seen as the embodiment of masculinity challenging Macbeth. When Macbeth poses the reason why Macduff can not defeat him in combat, but Macduff contradicts Macbeth’s statement, Macbeth attempts to walk away, it is as if he were walking away from his masculinity. By walking away, Macbeth displays to the audience that the brave warrior he was introduced at in the beginning of the play, appears to be non-existent anymore. Not necessarily showing significant signs of femininity but showing signs of weakness which is not a masculine trait.

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As seen in Macbeth’s Actions, Macbeth seems to lacking the masculinity that he is expected to possess. This is evident as he takes on feminine courses of actions when masculinity, and when he completely abandons masculine traits as his character is developed through the play. Macduff however, is the ideal image of a man in the play’s set time period, as he possess all traits of a man and demonstrates them when he is faced with a horrific or tense situation. This is evident in his encounter with Macbeth at the end of the play and his motivation for Macbeth’s demise

Macduff is one of King Duncan’s kinsman who suspected Macbeth of murdering king duncan. Macbeth later on in the play orders the execution of Macduff’s son and wife because he felt Macduff posed too great of a treat. He thought that by killing Macduff’s family, Macduff would back down in fear of Macbeth’s power. However, the contrary happened and Macduff gained an immense amount of willpower and motivation to kill Macbeth. Macduff eventually succeeds in this goal and is crowned king of scotland. Macduff is seen as the opposite of Macbeth in terms of gender roles, as Macduff shows the audience a Masculine man rather than Macbeth showing a feminine man. This is evident when Macduff is in the castle and was hunting down Macbeth. Macduff has come all the way from England with an army and has prepared to kill Macbeth and take back Scotland. When Macduff enters the castle with his weapon drawn, he says, “Either thou, Macbeth, Or else my sword, with an unbattered edge, I sheathe again undeeded. There thou shouldst be; By this great clatter, one of greatest note Seems bruited. Let me find him, Fortune, And more I beg not” (5.7.19-24). This quote shows the audience that Macduff is here to kill Macbeth in order to avenge his family and nothing more. Macduff does not primarily seek the crown like Macbeth did, but seeks revenge, justice and peace by killing Macbeth. The fact that Macduff does not want the ultimate power and title of king and just wants to do right by him, the gods and most importantly, his family, by killing Macbeth even if that requires him to die as well, shows the audience that Macduff is a man of unselfish ambition and pure will. The audience sees that Macduff will do whatever is needed in order for everything to become just and peaceful again. This quality of Justice, will and seeking what right, is a common trait of a leader, warrior and any decent and brave man.
As evidence unfolds, the uncharacteristic femininity of Macbeth, a supposed manly warrior, is evident when any extremely tense situation is presented in the play. As Macbeth shows how men can possess traits often associated with the opposite sex, his female counterpart, Lady Macbeth, displays all the masculinity that Macbeth is expected to have. As Macbeth is troubled by his actions and is engulfed in misery releasing all his suppressed emotions, Lady Macbeth shows no room for sympathy or fear and acts with a calm-tempered mind yet with heartless and emotionless execution. Thus, unfolds the second piece of evidence of how gender roles are contradicted in Macbeth.

Lady Macbeth
Lady Macbeth is not displayed as the traditional medieval era women. This is evident in several scenes and frames of dialogue where Lady Macbeth is seen to adopt more male characteristics than stereotypical woman characteristics. An example of this is when Lady Macbeth is being introduced in the play. The audience is introduced to Lady Macbeth’s sense of dominance and power which is not the average stereotypical trait of a woman. Lady Macbeth blatantly distinguishes herself as the dominant force in her relationship with Macbeth throughout the majority of the play. For instance, when Macbeth is hesitant and perplexed of how to manage King Duncan’s visit to their home, Lady Macbeth instantly seizes control of the situation, demanding that Macbeth lets her take control of the situation as shown when she says, “Let me handle tonight’s preparations, because tonight will change every night and day for the rest of our lives.” (1.5. 57-60). This is an example of how gender roles are reversed as Macbeth is supposed to be like most men/husbands in society in that time period and mainly even now, as being assertive or dominant in handling tense situations rather than women/wives like Lady Macbeth.
Lady Macbeth is also shown as being the motivating force her relationship with Macbeth. Her intentions are purely directed toward obtaining immediate power and status for Macbeth and herself. This is first seen after learning about the weird sisters’ prophecies. Lady Macbeth receives a letter from Macbeth telling of the weird sisters’ prophecies about him becoming king. Macbeth also mentions to Lady Macbeth that he plans on achieving the title of king through the murder of King Duncan. Lady Macbeth immediately starts the conceiving the murder of King Duncan and plans on how to act it out. She tells Macbeth to rest and let her take charge of the situation. This is made evident when Lady Macbeth says, “You should project a peaceful mood, because if you look troubled, you will arouse suspicion. Leave all the rest to me.” (1.5. 63-65). This quote shows the audience the beginning of Lady Macbeth’s power over Macbeth. By taking control of the situation, she has demonstrated that she believes that she should be in charge of leading Macbeth in becoming king. Lady Macbeth shows the audience that she is the brains and the leader of the operation and Macbeth is a simple pawn waiting to become king. This control is common amgoust tacticians or leaders of a group or army which, during this time period, were mainly men.
Lady Macbeth isn’t bothered at all by the thought of murdering King Duncan in her own home and even directly after King Duncan’s death, she remains carefree, calm and untroubled by Macbeth’s treacherous deed. This is seen in the scene in which she scolds Macbeth when he forgets to leave the bloodstained daggers at the scene of the King Duncan’s murder. This is evident when she says, “Coward! Give me the daggers. Dead and sleeping people can’t hurt you any more than pictures can. Only children are afraid of scary pictures.” (2.2. 52-55). This line shows the audience that Lady Macbeth has the power and audacity to talk to Macbeth in anyway she feels is needed or whenever she wants. She goes as far as insulting his manhood by telling that he is a coward, indicating that he has no bravery, a trait typically associated with a man. These insults that Lady Macbeth uses are insults common with that of men in barracks of an army insulting each other and certainly not that of a lady.

As Lady Macbeth is explored in the beginning of the play, the audience can not help but feel that she displays not hint of being a lady as she is seen as planning, saying and orchestrating horrible act and things. She shows all signs that of a spartan commander and even treats Macbeth as a worthless spartan boy who knows nothing. Despite Lady Macbeth one of the only female characters in the play {aside from the witches and Hecate (all though their gender is not specified and though it seems they are women, they could also be used a facade for some reason)}there is one women who does display prominent feminine traits. That women is Lady Macduff.
Lady Macduff
Lady Macduff is the wife of Macduff who doesn’t seem to play a big role alive but as dead. She and her son, Sirrah are killed by the murderers that Macbeth hired to kill Fleance and Banquo. The murderer are sent by Macbeth to kill Lady Macduff and Sirrah. Lady Macduff’s and Sirrah’s death fuels Macduff’s revenge to kill Macbeth. Lady Macduff is only present in one scene throughout the play but despite this limitations, gives the audience of her motherly nature and her willingness to protect her son. When Ross gives Lady Macduff the news that Macduff has fled to England to rally forces and fight against Macbeth, she’s complains that he should be here with his family guarding them against Macbeth’s forces. Despite this, she worries for Macduff’s well being and explains that she will do anything to protect her son. This is evident when she says, “The most diminutive of birds, will fight, Her young ones in her nest, against the owl” ( 4.2. 9-10). This quote shows the audience that Lady Macduff is a helpless and physically weak person compared to men but will do everything in her power to fend off against them to protect her son. The metaphor of the diminutive bird and her nest is referring to Lady Macduff and her son. She know that she has almost no chance against a bigger bird, meaning Macbeth’s men, but she will try fight against them in order to save her son. The audience doesn’t perceive this as ruthless or barbaric behavior as it is not stated in that manner, but as compassion and motherly love and care for her son. She knows that she will probably die, but she doesn’t care about herself, she only care about Sirrah and his well being..This trait is unconditional amongst most mothers during that time period and especially in today’s era.
More evidence or Lady Macduff’s motherly nature is displayed when she talks to her son about his father’s possible death and their life, but mainly his. During this discussion she poses a question framed in both a sort of comical, tragic and questionable question to Sirrah. Sirrah answers with some witticism and a comical/tragic dialogue proceeds. This question truly shows Lady Macduff’s motherly nature. The question Lady Macduff say is, “Sirrah, your father is dead. And what will you do now? How will you live?” ( 4.2. 34-35). This quote shows Lady Macduff’s motherly nature because it show her concern for Sirrah and how he will manage without his father, but it is presented in semi-comical semi-tragic manner in order to give Sirrah a sense of slight concern but mainly comical. Sirrah gives a comical answer which indicates to Lady Macduff that he is not worried. Therefore giving a worry-free answer and reassure both of them that everything will be alright. Sirrah will take it as a one of his mother’s made up hypothetical situations and Lady Macduff will view is as Sirrah’s vague view for his future life after Macduff’s death. Sirrah’s answer will allow Lady Macduff prepare the necessary short and long term arrangement for them as it is not certain Macduff will live. Sirrah doesn’t know this as he had not heard Ross and Lady Macduff’s conversation and Lady Macduff’s question appeared comical to him. The main reason why this all shows her motherly concern is because she posed a real life scenario in a way to not make Sirrah worry. These types of confusing question are actually highly-common amongst mother’s as it is a way of feeling how their children will live their life and how the mother’s may help prepare their course for them and do what is best for them without them knowing or worrying. The comical side lets the children “know” that it is a hypothetical question. The tragic side lets the children know that they should give a real answer. Overall the children give an answer that is true but they assume isn’t taken serious. Lady Macduff does this perfectly as she continues a comical dialogue with Sirrah. The audience realizes Lady Macduff’s care and concern for her son and dedication to do what’s best for him.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth show a high degree of how gender stereotypes are completely contradicted to that of the general standard in their time period, This is shown in their views and how willing they are to do what is necessary to make them come true, dominance and assertiveness in their actions, and how they manage high-stress situations. Macbeth challenges the explicit gender norms that society has placed on, both past and present, men and women. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth switch gender roles and explicitly show the dominant traits that the other gender clearly possess. Lady Macbeth shows several gender norms and expectations of the animalistic side of men (which is often seen in war) through her heartless actions, her bravery and her insults towards Macbeth. Macbeth is seen to follow the same path as he demonstrates lack of faithful pride, blind courage, inability to overcome his quilty and sympathy, lack of ability to hide his fear and his many emotions, something assumed common amongst woman in that time period. Macduff and Lady Macduff show the complete opposite of these reversed gender roles and are seen as the reciprocals of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. Shakespeare does the magnificent job of making characters contradict the generally labeled roles and making them a revolutionary flaw that leads to their downfall.


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