Women in Shakespeare

1 January 2017

The women presented in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth have challenged the cultural values and assumptions of the role, rights and power of women during the Elizabethan period. The typical role of Elizabethan women of looking after the household and handling the kids is contradicted; the rights of Elizabethan women are defied; and the power of Elizabethan women in the household and the society is taken to new extents. The role, rights and power of Elizabethan women is confronted upon with the use of the female characters in the play Macbeth as well as the various language techniques used throughout the play.

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Shakespeare has used the female characters in the play Macbeth to challenge the role Elizabethan women play in society. Women during the Elizabethan era were required to look after the household, the kids, simply be feminine and look good. Lady Macbeth is an important character who most strongly challenges this typical role. She does much more than look after the household; she presents herself more as a man than a female saying, “unsex me here”. Here she portrays the desire to be more than just the ‘woman’ in the house by removing here feminine qualities.

This is also evident in the quote She further challenges the typical role by showing disregard for her children if she had any, “would, while it was smiling in my face, Have pluck’d my nipple from the boneless gums, And dash’d the brains out, had i so sworn”. This quote shows the extremes to which Lady Macbeth can go and even take life out of her child. The imagery portrayed by the quote makes it seem bloody and extremely unfeminine. A typical Elizabethan woman doesn’t behave so. These scenes also portray her lack of the ‘innocence’ that women are meant to have. Another character that shows defiance against this role is Lady Macduff.

The typical role of Elizabethan women is to be accepting of everything their male relatives do and never speak ill of them. However Lady Macduff, when Macduff abandons them, speaks out and calls him a traitor. “His flight was madness” this quote shows Lady Macduff calling her husband’s actions madness. Here she shows defiance against the weak image women portray and showed ability to support her and her son alone. The witches also challenge the feminine nature by appearing manly and harboring beards. Thus by the use of language and the female characters Shakespeare has successfully challenged the role of Elizabethan women.

The rights of Elizabethan women are defied against in Macbeth and taken to a new level. A typical woman couldn’t speak out in household matters; she could not raise her voice against her husband and had no right to do as she pleased. Lady Macbeth is a prime example of such defiance. She plans the murder of Duncan and orders her husband to kill him. Her strength is seen in the quote, “Your hand, your tongue: look like the innocent flower, But be the serpent under’t. He that’s coming must be provided for: and you shall put this night’s great business into my dispatch”.

This quote shows how easily Lady Macbeth can order her husband. Her control is further seen when she says “Leave all the rest to me. ” this gives the feeling that the entire household relies upon Lady Macbeth and not Macbeth. This is completely opposite of what rights women had. Lady Macbeth defies those rights and portrays a strong and powerful woman that has control. Another most common right was marriage. It was the one thing that Elizabethan women were granted without question. However, the Witches and their queen remain as single women throughout their lives.

This defies against the one right that all women have and shows their out of placement with the rest of society. Shakespeare has effectively used the women in Macbeth to portray the defiance to and changing the typical feminine rights of Elizabethan women. Women in Shakespeare’s Macbeth are presented with immense power that impacts the plot, and characters of the play. Lady Macbeth and the Witches are the two main sources of leading Macbeth astray. The witches provided Macbeth with the prophecy sparked an idea, and Lady Macbeth simply set on a fire using that spark. Lady Macbeth urged Macbeth to kill and be kind himself.

Without the Witches’ prophecy the play would have continued on normally with no problem, but the prophecy has caused the main character to become an evil man. The witches equivocate to Macbeth’s doing and undoing. Hecate, being similar to a queen of the Witches is seen as an even powerful female in the play, who has the capability of scolding the Witches themselves. Her power is seen via the lines “Have I not reason, beldams as you are? Saucy and overbold, how did you dare To trade and traffic with Macbeth…

And I, the mistress of your charms, The close contriver of all harms, Was never called to bear my part, Or show the glory of our art? these lines show that without Hecate’s presence, the true magic cannot be witnessed and she makes it all complete. The queen and her uncanny followers remain objects of supernatural awe and fear. The Witches appear as old, wizened women growing beards; they stoke up the seed of evil ambition in Macbeth, just as Lady Macbeth keeps the ambition growing in her husband’s mind. The witches possess an ambiguous sexuality, and their dubious nature is always suspect. With the use of powerful characters such as Lady Macbeth, the Witches and Hecate, Shakespeare has challenged the not so powerful females of the Elizabethan era.

The role, rights and power of Elizabethan women is confronted upon with the use of the female characters in the play Macbeth as well as the various language techniques used throughout the play. Shakespeare’s play Macbeth incorporates women such as Lady Macbeth, Lady Macduff, the Witches and Hecate which are effectively used to challenge the typical attributes of Elizabethan women. The many language devices and characters have created a play, Macbeth that has challenged the cultural values and assumptions of the role, rights and power of women during the Elizabethan period.

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