In William Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth there is a major theme of gender roles. Men are supposed to be strong, brave, and intelligent, while women were supposed to be weak emotional and serve men. Lady Macbeth breaks uses gender to manipulate Macbeth, because Macbeth does not want to be portrayed as feminine; whereas Macduff uses his emotions to make him more masculine.
On their way home from war, Macbeth and Banquo, encounter three witches also known as the weird sisters. Banquo says “You should be women, /And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/That you are so.” In this quote Banquo is talking about the masculine appearance of the three witches. Since they have beards and do not look feminine Banquo cannot consider them female. The witches give Macbeth and Banquo prophesies. One of the prophesies for Macbeth is that he will be king, he writes a letter to his wife Lady Macbeth explaining everything that has happened and that will happen. When Lady Macbeth hears this news, she says:
The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. 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.
Through this quote Lady Macbeth is saying make me less feminine and more masculine, because she comes up with a plan to get rid of King Duncan so Macbeth can become the new king. When she tells Macbeth about killing King Duncan he has second thoughts, but Lady Macbeth quickly calls him a coward and questions his manhood. By doing this Macbeth is able to be convinced to kill King Duncan.
After Duncan is discovered murdered Lady Macbeth asks Macduff what is going on and Macduff replies
O gentle lady,
‘Tis not for you to hear what I can speak:
The repetition, in a woman’s ear,
Would murder as it fell.
Macduff refuses to tell Lady Macbeth about the murder of King Duncan. He sees Lady Macbeth as weak and unable to handle the gory details of what has occurred simply because she is female. Ironically Lady Macbeth planed the whole murder and is taking on more of a masculine role than Macbeth. While it seems that Lady Macbeth is unbothered by the murder, Macbeth feels even more guilty, he is unable to sleep and has hallucinations. This changes very fast and in order to secure his throne Macbeth orders the deaths of Banquo and Fleance as well as Macduff’s family. He orders the death of Banquo and Fleance because Banquo’s prophesy was that he will be father of kings although he will never be king himself. Macbeth ordered the death of Macduff’s family because he saw Macduff as a threat. When Macduff finds out that his family was murdered he starts to cry and Malcolm tells Macduff to man up, because crying is not considered masculine. Macbeth’s lack of guilt for killing these people is similar to Lady Macbeth’s attitude in the beginning of the play.
The gender roles in the tragedy Macbeth show how as the characters in the play transform into their correct gender roles it leads to their downfall. For Lady Macbeth she becomes too guilty causing her to commit suicide, whereas Macbeth loses all feelings of guilt and turns into a ruthless leader. On the other hand, Macduff isn’t afraid to let his emotions show which ultimately leads him to kill Macbeth.