Macbeth – Gender Roles Essay

9 September 2016

Gender roles In William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth“, Shakespeare explores and challenges the ideas of traditional gender roles, regarding leadership, power and masculinity. These different gender roles are used to shape characters and create fear in the readers He leaves the question of what masculinity truly is open for the audience to decide. In the following essay, I will show some examples where Shakespeare made his own gender roles. It is important to understand the role that gender plays in today’s society, as compared with the gender roles portrayed in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Masculinity is a strong symbol used within gender throughout the play, and is a parallel with icons today. Women are typically labeled as inferior and emotional human beings with a nurturing and caring role . They tend to have a harder time today when trying to get jobs that were previously only held by males, for example, high political positions (for example a president).

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The president is seen as powerful, and a symbol of strength representing the country. Unfortunately, because the stereotypical woman is seen as weak, women were not voted into high-ranking offices.

The same unfair balance of gender is seen the same way in Macbeth. From the opening scene, we begin to see the role that women play in Macbeth. The three ugly witches are gathered in a thunderstorm cackling greedily over their evil plans. Their chant of “fair is foul, and foul is fair” illustrates how women perform acts of ugliness and evil to achieve disorder. At the beginning of act 1, scene 3, page 17, when Banquo first sees the witches, he is very confused if they are women or men. He says they seem “too masculine“ to be women.

The witches are figures that trigger Macbeth’s murderous ambition, which brings about his ruin. It is their prophecy that leads Macbeth to consider Duncan in order to become king. We again see the feminine presence through the witches. This time they are casting spells on a poor sailor because his wife cursed one of the witches and refused to give her some chestnuts. Both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are striving towards masculinity. The importance of masculinity to both of them is an issue of power.

Lady Macbeth aspires to be a man so that she can show supremacy and be more of a ruler. Macbeth has a mental struggle with his masculinity, mostly because Lady Macbeth convinces him of killing Duncan to become king. Because Lady Macbeth cannot really become a man, she has to work vicariously through Macbeth, making him become king. To control Macbeth, she must use his aim to become more masculine, to drive his killing of Duncan. In Act I, Scene I, on line 51, Macbeth affirms, “I dare do all that may become a man. Who dares [do] more is none. Later on in the play Lady Macbeth says that her husband is not ambitious enough and too “kind“ to do what it takes to become king. She plans to “chastise“ him with the “valour of [her] tongue“. That shows that Lady Macbeth is the dominant partner in their relationship which inverts the typical gender and social roles. Macbeth is a tragedy filled with betrayal, prophecies and revenge. Throughout this book, Macbeth seeks guidance from the wrong people like the witches, his wife, whose ambition is as great as, if not even greater than his.

However, everybody must ask themself whether Macbeth is really the cold blooded murderer and traitor everyone thought him to be. The peculiarity of the gender roles Shakespeare uses in Macbeth are that he presents the women’s behaviour as a men’s and the men’s as the women’s. That means that the woman is the leading person in the relationship and more powerful. The men are the weak and uncertain people whose behaviour is based on the women’s decision.

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