Shakespeare and Angela Carter present through their work of ‘Macbeth’ and ‘The Bloody Chamber’ the struggles of women rebelling against gender stereotypes and how they fall victim to the patriarchal society they are a part of.
Firstly, Shakespeare shows the importance of gender boundaries in society and how women who do not conform to their gender stereotypes will be punished. In Macbeth Shakespeare uses the character of Lady Macbeth to show this. Lady Macbeth throughout the play influences and controls her husband Macbeth for personal gain, she does this by taunting her husband which is already the first sign that she doesn’t conform to the stereotypical 16th century woman who would usually be submissive to their husband. “When you durst do it, then you were a man” here we see that the gender roles have switched because it’s the wife who has the power here, by saying you ‘were a man’ is telling of this, she is almost mocking him by inferring that if he doesn’t murder Duncan then he is a ‘woman’ in the sense that he was too weak to carry out the murder showing how society viewed women as almost ‘delicate’ however in this scene it’s the woman who has the power. Lady Macbeth teases Macbeth because she knows how if he murders Duncan that she will gain power, now as they’re in a highly patriarchal society Lady Macbeth would not have had any social hierarchy over men but if she becomes queen she will have that power and this would have been desirable for her, as Shakespeare has shown us through her not follow social stereotypes that she has more ‘masculine’ desires rather than women who conform to society by following their only purpose in having children which Lady Macbeth opposes through her description of infanticide she has no interest in having children. To a Jacobean audience this would be absurd because women’s only purpose in society in the 16th century was to provide men with children. Shakespeare is showing us here how she is against the most feminine thing for a woman and is almost striving for her own personal gain of power which is more masculine in the sense that in most Jacobean plays/stories it is only men who strive for power and is a masculine trait traditionally.
In The Bloody Chamber, we see a masculine trait again is given to a female character, Carter gives the role of the hero who saves the damsel in distress to the protagonist’s mother which again in traditional stories is a male stereotype where a man would come to save the female who has been captured. The mother is identified with power as she’s described as having “furious justice” which shows that Carter and Shakespeare have both given female characters that power or shown that like Lady Macbeth they are capable of wanting/having that power. However a female craving this power is not punished in The Bloody Chamber like it is in Macbeth with her being haunted by her feeling of guilt with her having visions of blood on her hands “come out, damned spot! Out I command you!” as we can see from the way Shakespeare wants this presented as she’s shouting it’s obviously driving her insane as she can see it but no one else can and thus Shakespeare shows how a woman is punished for rebelling against gender stereotypes by her seeking power and has gone insane due to a man’s actions and therefore takes the consequences. But The Bloody Chamber doesn’t punish women for trying to gain power like in Macbeth but through the use of fetishes and sexual desires they are punished. In The Bloody Chamber the main protagonist is seen as having sexual desires through the words “thrusting”, “ecstasy”, “burning cheek” and “tender” the main protagonist is usually descried with sexual words like this throughout the story. This is a continuative theme throughout the story even by things such as the red necklace she is given by the count which can symbolise blood is a reference to sexual fetishes and desires. However, the same intrigue that allows her to explore sexuality also forces her to explore the secret room which allows her to discover the bodies of the counts old wives. Like Lady Macbeth who is punished for her husband’s actions the main protagonist in this story would also have been punished for her husband’s actions that being that she discovered his murders and would have been killed by him for discovering them until she is saved my her empowered mother.
Secondly, we also see the rebelling of gender stereotypes through the merging of the genders with female and masculine traits being given to opposite sex characters in Macbeth and The Bloody Chamber. In Macbeth we see the characters of the witches who cross the line between female and male gender stereotypes. “You should be a woman, yet your beards forbid me” showing that Shakespeare even blurred the lines of gender through their appearance and thus they rebel against the patriarchal society by not conforming to these stereotypes of looking like a woman and it shows through the confusion of Banquo who has been indoctrinated by the patriarchy and knows nothing else. However even with the witches who have tried to rebel from gender stereotypes even through appearance they still fall victim to the patriarchy. They have received the punishment of being segregated from society which is most likely due to the time being that in 16th century England the fad for witch hunting was at its peak
A critic states: ‘Of all Shakespeare’s female characters Lady Macbeth stands out far beyond the rest — remarkable for her ambition, strength of will, cruelty, and dissimulation.’ I agree with this statement that Lady Macbeth stands out and has traits such as ‘strength of will’ because of “That made you break your enterprise to me? When you durst do it, then you were a man” it would have been unheard of for someone like Lady Macbeth who is a representation of a woman in 16th century Elizabethan England to stand up and taunt their husband like she does which does show strength, it also shows her rebelling against gender stereotypes because it’s unfeminine for a woman to mock their husband for not being a man in considering if she wasn’t married she would have no power at all in society and therefore doing this could be seen as a risk to a woman and therefore making Lady Macbeth ‘strong’ and ‘ambitious’
As Lady Macbeth propels her husband toward committing Duncan’s murder, she indicates that she must take on masculine characteristics. Her most famous speech