Analysis of the Role of Women in Macbeth 

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The Plot of Macbeth would have never advanced if the prophecy given by the witches did not make Macbeth eager to take power away from Duncan and become king himself. Many of Shakespeare’s female characters have also been eager to obtain power, however, attaining power was not as casual as it was for men. Women were not thrust into leadership roles as easily as men were; they had to seek them out Andronicus are all examples of women who took action to control their own lives and the lives of those around them. This paper will analyze the power that these three characters assert and will answer the questions of how do women assert power in Shakespeare, and, what role does gender play in power Shakespeare did not write any of his plays with the intention for them to be seen as feminist because that thought did not exist in his time. As Peter Erikson writes in his essay, “Shakespeare, Feminist Criticism Of,” “Shakespeare cannot be usefully labeled either misogynist or feminist since he occupies an intermediate position between these extremes” (Erikson 1). The following analysis will be about how women are portrayed in Shakespeare’s plays, not why he chose to portray them a certain way. Power will be defined, as the opportunity to take action and lead others in an outcome that is desirable to you. Using this definition, the women in these Shakespearean plays are able to assert power when they mask or ignore their femininity, whether purposefully or not. These women are only powerful when they can control the men around them, and they lose that power when men feel threatened by the effects of female speech and sexuality. Lady Macbeth is one of the most dynamic characters in all of Shakespeare

because no other character is as manipulative as she is. For the first half of Macbeth, it is Lady Macbeth who puts herself in a position of power by taking the lead in the decision to murder Duncan. To get her power, Lady Macbeth not only openly rejects her femininity, but the thought of belonging to any gender at all.

The first time the audience meets Lady Macbeth is in 1.5. She has just read a letter from Macbeth telling her about the prophecy that he will be king and how he was jusof Cawdor. Lady Macbeth knows this means Macbeth has to kill Duncan and she is immediately skeptical of Macbeth’s abilities. She says”Yet I do fear thy nature.It is too full o’th’ milk of human kindnessTo catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great, Art not without ambition, but without The illness should attend it”

It is interesting that Lady Macbeth thinks of Macbeth as being too kind, when the audience has only heard of him as a fierce warrior. In telling King Duncan of his victory against Macdonald, the Captain says, “For brave Macbeth- well he deserves that name!” (I.ii.16). Joan Larson Klein explains this behavior in her essay, “Lady Macbeth ‘Infirm of Purpose.’” Klein states, “It is Lady Macbeth, not Macbeth who feels the bonds of kind, Lady Macbeth who has, as women were supposed to have, something of the milk of human kindness in he This shows Lady Macbeth’s association with

femininity equating to weakness. Since, as Klein states, women were expected to have a certain level of kindness in them, Lady Macbeth is saying that Macbeth has too much womanliness to commit a murder. In return, she is also acknowledging the fact that she cannot commit the murder herself because as a woman, she naturally possesses too much kindness to do so. Lady Macbeth begs Macbeth to come home quickly so that she can persuade him to murder Duncan before he can talk himself out of it by saying, “That I may pour my spirits in thine ear/ And chastise with the valour of my tongue/ All that impedes thee from the golden round Lady Macbeth is taking on the role of the aggressor in Duncan’s murder because she is already prepared to convince her husband to accept what the witches said his fate was. It is interesting that Shakespeare chose to use the phrase “with the valour of my tongue” because The Oxford English Dictionary defines valour it as, “worth or importance due to personal qualities or to rank,” and also, “the quality of mind which enables a person to face danger with boldness or firmness; courage or bravery, esp. as shown in warfare or conflict; valiancy, prowess Lady Macbeth has a high rank in their relationship, and also has the ability to face danger.Only six women are in the story, but they play important roles. Lady Macbeth's quest for power -- on her husband's behalf -- eventually drives her mad. Three witches and the goddess Hecate represent witchcraft. Their supernatural powers and manipulative strategies negatively affect Macbeth and the outcome of the play. Lady Macduff serves as a strong contrast to Lady Macbeth.

The three witches play an evil, mystical role in the play. They have the ability to see into the future and predict that Macbeth will become the king of Scotland. Their prophesies jump-start Macbeth's murderous ways. Shakespeare gives the witches supernatural abilities but forces the audience to consider whether they dictate Macbeth's outcome or if Macbeth seals his own fate -- raising the question of free will. The witches are creepy, manipulative and evil and enjoy watching Macbeth fail as a husband, friend and leader. They set a moody, pessimistic tone for the play and foreshadow Macbeth's impending doom.

Lady Macduff is Lady Macbeth's opposite. She's a loyal, devoted mother who prioritizes the raising of her children. She rebukes her husband for leaving the family to pursue vengeance on Macbeth for killing Duncan. Lady Macduff knows that two wrongs don't make a right and desperately wants to save her family, knowing that Macbeth is intent on killing them all. Shakespeare uses this female figure to show positive traits -- devotion, goodness, high moral standing, unselfishness and inner strength. Lady Macduff's strong mental state provides a stark contrast to Lady Macbeth's increasing madness.

Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft, plays a minor role in the play, but Shakespeare uses her to incorporate mysticism and supernatural elements into the story. She helps the three witches concoct and implement their plans to ruin Macbeth and is likely their controller. Shakespeare might want the audience to question the motives of the Greek gods -- to suggest they don't always have the best interests of humans in mind. Hecate foreshadows Macbeth's downfall when she says, 'Security is mortals' chiefest enemy.'

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Analysis of the Role of Women in Macbeth . (2022, Feb 03). Retrieved April 16, 2024 , from

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