Masculinity In Macbeth


In the archetypal Scottish play Macbeth, Shakespeare presents masculinity as to be inherently linked to violence. Alternatively, masculinity (as a cautionary idea) could be Shakespeare suggesting that men hold too much power in society, giving the Elizabethan audience subliminal ideals to try and break free of such a patriarchy.

Through the protagonist Macbeth, Shakespeare presents his masculinity as being weak. Macbeth is shown to just want to be a man by his wife; however, Lady Macbeth knows this – this is the reason for her constantly questioning his manly hood throughout the entirety of the play: ‘are you a man?’. This entails Lady Macbeths inherent manipulation over men in the play. In the Elizabethan era, women are – by nature – suggested to ideally be: family oriented, subservient to their husbands and sentimental. Whilst Lady Macbeth is all of those things, Shakespeare portrays her ambition to be the ideal woman as rather masculine. From act 1 scene 7, Lady Macbeth is seen to be manipulating Macbeth: ‘as thou art desire? Wouldst thou have that’. Lady Macbeth here is seen to be speaking in blank verse, Shakespeare traditionally uses this type of speech to present characters as noble and important. This is just another way of Shakespeare showing Lady Macbeths power over her husband.

Lady Macbeth is clearly capable of concocting her own plans, however, she is seen to be relying on Macbeth to do them for her. She in fact says she would have done it ‘had he not resemble my father’. This is an example of Shakespeare showing the Elizabethan audience Lady Macbeths feminine nature. Her subservient role to her husband is presented in a violent and inherently masculine way as she’d ‘dash the brains out’ of her baby ‘whilst it was smiling at’ her. She even goes as far as wanting to ‘unsex me here’ and ‘take my milk for gall’, as she is aware that she isn’t the traditional women. The resultant plot of Lady Macbeth being mortified at the idea that her husband has to keep on killing people to maintain his ambitions, informs the reader that lady Macbeth is In fact a victim of the patriarchy. 

On the other hand, Shakespeare might be presenting a tainted version of femininity to the Elizabethan audience to create a cautionary tale that constricts people even more to follow the patriarchal gender roles that were set at the time. This idea makes lady Macbeths whole tragedy surrounded by the fact that she is a misogynistic portrayal of women a large part of her involvement in the play. Linking back to the ideal that masculinity comes with inherent violence, Lady Macbeth is a great example of women stepping outside of her gender role to achieve her ambitions. 

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