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Gender Roles and Macbeth

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Date Submitted:
01/28/2010 09:27 AM
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What roles and actions should actors of a particular gender portray? Should men be aggressive and have a level of ambition high enough to meet their loftiest goals? Should women always be passive and frail, never using their energy to advance their lot? William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a tragic tale of one man’s deadly and unchecked ambition to be king, and his wife’s lust for power and title. By the final act of the play, Macbeth has been consumed by his own drive. The prophecies he once thrived upon have turned against him and left him virtually helpless to alter his own destiny. The characters in Macbeth are frequently dwelling on the confining issue of gender, which ultimately dictates a majority of their actions throughout the play. This is evident in the contrasts between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, the idea of manipulation through gender, and the reversed gender roles found in some characters in the play.

Lady Macbeth is often troubled by what she perceives as the limitations of her gender. When first receiving news of the prophecy made by the three witch sisters, she believes that her husband does not have the courage or the ambition to stand and take what is being given to him. In her famous soliloquy, Lady Macbeth asks the spirits to “unsex me here” (Shakespeare, Act I, scene v, line 39). She is well aware that the stereotypes and societal expectations of the time period have labeled women as frail, dainty, and weak. Most importantly, women are seen as lacking the ability to be vicious. Lady Macbeth recognizes her husband’s lack of resolve to commit the tasks that he must to become king.   She does not share Macbeth’s uncertainty. Unlike most women of the time, Lady Macbeth has an unquenchable ambition to become queen, and will do whatever she must for her husband to seize the throne, even if it means tyrannicide. In this aspect, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth have adopted opposite societal gender roles: Lady Macbeth has become strong and sure, the essence...
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  1. Gender Roles in Macbeth
    • Mar 19, 2011 - Evaluator: (oliviahacker)
    • This helped me so much! I am a year 10 student and found that the points your raised were valuable. You have talked about all the main characters (Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Macduff, The Witches and Banquo) and have written beautifully. I appreciate the character anaylsis and the relation to gender stereotypes in the Elizabethan Era. Thanks again!