Macbeth: Revealing Of Gender Issues

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Macbeth is a play written by William Shakespeare during the seventeenth century in Scotland. It was written succeeding the period in which Macbeth and Lady Macbeth partook in unethical and immoral means to take the throne and gain power over Scotland. The tragedy was written in an era where gender roles were prominent in society. Men were seen as strong, fearless, and powerful whereas women were seen as sensitive and were ultimately used for the pleasure of men. Shakespeare reveals that societal pressures and other characters encourage men to be violent and fearless. However, these masculine qualities can become overpowering and catastrophic. The audience is therefore encouraged to question whether problems can truly be solved through violence. Shakespeare highlights masculine attributes such as vigor, brutality, and violence as ruinous in Macbeth.

Initially, Shakespeare reveals that during the Elizabethan Era in Scotland men were expected to be strong and violent. This is illustrated at the commencement of the play when Macbeth is commended for his bravery as a “worthy thane” following the war between Norway and Scotland. Macbeth is “smothered in surmise” when he begins to consider the possibility of being king. Shakespeare uses this piece of alliteration to highlight that Macbeth’s imagination is “smothered” in corrupt thoughts. Lady Macbeth challenges gender expectations and takes on masculine characteristics. She denounces her feminine traits by calling upon evil spirits to “unsex me here.” The soliloquy signifies Lady Macbeth’s desire to acquire masculine traits that influence her malicious thoughts toward King Duncan. Macbeth’s masculinity is questioned by Lady Macbeth when she says that “It is too full o’th’milk of human kindness.” Lady Macbeth personifies Macbeth’s nature as too gentle to gain kingship which therefore highlights that Lady Macbeth withholds a greater amount of masculine qualities than Macbeth. The manlike qualities represented in Macbeth influence the characters’ actions and ultimately lead to disaster.

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Although Shakespeare reveals masculine qualities as desirable and virtuous at the beginning of the play, he suggests that these traits can also become overpowering and detrimental. Macbeth admits that there is “no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition,” signifying that he has no justification for murdering King Duncan, but only ambition that “spurs” upon his wicked mind. Shakespeare highlights that violence breeds upon itself when morals and conscience are disregarded. This is displayed by Macbeth when he begins to hallucinate with “cursèd thoughts” after murdering Banquo. The “unnatural deeds” of Lady Macbeth also infect her mind with peculiar thoughts which cause her to furiously wash her hands in an attempt to wash the guilt, however, she is not successful in doing so. Shakespeare utilizes soliloquies such as “Will these hand ne’er be clean?” to reflect Lady Macbeth’s guilt to the audience. The soliloquy reveals that the harmful actions of characters are not always beneficial, reinstating that Male-oriented attributes can lead to treacherous events if morals are not considered and are no longer rewarded later in the play.

Shakespeare encourages his audience to consider if problems can truly be resolved through violence via the representation of various masculine qualities in characters. Shakespeare suggests that only people who fight for the benefit of their country can become conquerors, whilst those who act transgressively to prove their strength and power will be punished. Malcolm commands Macduff to “Dispute it [the murder of his family] like a man.” Macduff responds by saying that he “must also feel it like a man” before handling the situation in the masculine fashion suggested by Malcolm. Shakespeare uses this quote to encourage the audience to believe that men should be loyal, follow morals and feel the emotion in order to resolve problems. Shakespeare further emphasizes how people should act when Young Siward was murdered by the ‘tyrant’ after admirably fighting for Scotland with pure loyalty and devotion. Ross explains that Young Siward died “like a man” due to his allegiance to Scotland. The bravery shown by Young Siward encourages the audience to question whether violence can combat problems.

Ultimately, Shakespeare uses characters to challenge traditional views on masculinity through the theme of violence. Throughout the play, immorality is seen to drive chaos and ruin. Therefore, Shakespeare warns his Elizabethan audience that manipulating one’s power beyond their natural order will lead to disorder in society. Shakespeare ensures the audience that turmoil can easily be avoided if men and women stay loyal to their country and king. His point that masculine traits can injurious can be related to World War One where violence leads to the death of millions of people from almost every point in the world.


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