Gender Roles in Macbeth
In William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, Shakespeare goes against the ideas of conventional gender roles. Gender is either being male or female. Typically in society, men are the more dominant figures and women tend to have secondary roles. This is totally reversed in William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth. The tragedy, Macbeth, focuses on the relationship between the two main characters, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth tends to acts more like a man and Macbeth tends to act more like a woman. Lady Macbeth takes the lead role as she convinces her husband, Macbeth, to kill King Duncan. This reverse in gender roles plays a significant role in the shaping of the characteristics of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Ultimately, the reverse in gender roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth leads to evil acts occurring and not a typical husband and wife relationship. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s conflict of gender roles leads to their demise as individuals and as a couple.
Although Lady Macbeth is more of a manly figure throughout Macbeth, this tends to not be true in the beginning of the tragedy. Macbeth’s manliness is very evident in the beginning of the play. It is evident in the captain’s report to Duncan in Act 1, Scene 2(Gleed). It is stated by the captain, “Till he faced the slave;/ Which nev’r shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,/ Till he unseamed him from the nave to th’ chops,/ And fixed his head upon our battlements”(1.2.20-23). This quote from the captain in Act 1 shows Macbeth’s bravery and manliness and how Macbeth split the slave open and hung his head for all to see. Macbeth is a fierce warrior and he refuses to let anybody control his actions. This will ultimately change throughout the play.
In William Shakespeare tragedy, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is very ruthless and dominant. She will do anything to make sure her husband becomes king. We see this in Act 1, Scene 5. In this scene she receives a letter from Macbeth. She begins to start making plans to make sure her husband becomes king. Lady Macbeth questions Macbeth’s manhood as she believes Macbeth is too kind to become king. It is stated by Lady Macbeth in Act 1, Scene 5, “Yet I do fear thy nature;/ It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way”(1.5.16-18). Lady Macbeth knows that Macbeth is too kind to take power and become king. Lady Macbeth decides that together, with Macbeth, they need to murder King Duncan to achieve power and royalty. Lady Macbeth knows that she needs to be the man in the relationship in order for the murder to go through as planned. It is stated by writer Elizabeth Klett, “Above all as a woman living in a patriarchal world that allows no outlet for her intelligence, she becomes motivated to seize power through her husband”(Klett). Society does not allow women to have authority. Lady Macbeth must act and think like a man.
Lady Macbeth does conform to female characteristics. In order to commit the murder of Duncan, she renounces her feminine nature. She says in Act 1, Scene 5, “Come, you spirits/ That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,/ And fill me, from crown to the toe, top-full/ Of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood,/ Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse”(1.5.40-44). Lady Macbeth is asking the spirits to get rid of the female natures in her. Lady Macbeth wants to be cruel and wants manly characteristics by telling the spirits to “unsex” her. Lady Macbeth has power over Macbeth shown through her word choice. Lady Macbeth’s ambition is one the leading causes to the death of King Duncan. Writer Jane Adelman says, “The thickening of the blood and the stopping of the access and passage of remorse begin to sound like attempts to undo reproductive functioning and perhaps to stop the menstrual blood”(Adelman). Lady Macbeth wants her blood to be thick to get through obstacles just like a true man would. After telling the audience she does not want to reproduce, people know how much she wants to become a man.
The reverse in gender roles is very evident during the murder of King Duncan. Macbeth wants to become a king but does not feel comfortable killing Duncan. However, Lady Macbeth continues to question his manhood. She says to Macbeth, ” When you durst do it, then you were a man”(1.7.49). Lady Macbeth wants Macbeth to be a man and the only way to prove that he is a truly a man is by murdering King Duncan. Lady Macbeth has ultimate power over Macbeth. Macbeth murders King Duncan with a bloody axe to prove that he is a man. After killing King Duncan, he experiences an extraordinary amount of guilt.