Macbeth is a tragedy about a fearsome Scottish general who is told a prophecy that he would become king. He becomes ambitious seeks the crown through a dark path, this path eventually leads to his downfall. Through the play gender plays a big role in setting up scenes and acts in the play, in the sense that female characters have defining characteristics that are traditionally associated with men while the male characters are shown to hold characteristics that are traditional unique to females. Men are traditional seen as the foundation and source of income in a family and women are generally the ones to look after children and care for them. Women are characterized as emotional, caring and kind while Men are characterized as brave, bold, fearless and strong. In the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare, traditional gender roles are challenged by Lady Macbeth and Macbeth throughout the play.
Macbeth is a great representation of a character challenged by the traditional gender role/view of a male. Macbeth takes on feminine characteristics evidential at the beginning of the play which are traits generally not associated with men, especially men of the medieval era who were generally seen to be war-breed and ruthless, characteristics which should apply to any soldier and especially a general. The first piece of evidence that Macbeth takes on a feminine role is during the conception of murdering King Duncan for power.
Macbeth is clearly disturbed by the murder and is troubled by the thought even before completing their plan. When talking about King Duncan he states, “The king trusts me in two ways. First of all, I am his kinsman and his subject, so I should always try to protect him. Second, I am his host, so I should be closing the door in his murderer’s face, not trying to murder him myself.” (1.7. 13-17) showing how hesitant and reluctant he is to betray and proceed with murdering King Duncan.
The second piece of evidence comes after Macbeth murdered King Duncan in Macbeth’s own home. Macbeth is seen by the audience to be perplexed and emotionally distressed when he returns to Lady Macbeth and informs her about what he has done and how guilty he feels. Macbeth is portrayed as being physical and emotional stress, to the point where he refuses to re-enter the Kind Duncan’s sleeping chamber where he lays dead. This is evident when Macbeth says, “I can’t go back. I’m afraid even to think about what I’ve done. I can’t stand to look at it again.” (2.2. 50-51). Lady Macbeth is ashamed and infuriated by Macbeth’s weakness and his foolishness and even proceeds to insult and scold hims. This is seen in the scene in which she scolds Macbeth when he forgets to leave the bloodstained daggers at the scene of the King Duncan’s murder. This is evident when she says, “Coward! Give me the daggers. Dead and sleeping people can’t hurt you any more than pictures can. Only children are afraid of scary pictures.” (2.2. 52-55).
Lady Macbeth is not displayed as the traditional medieval era women. This is evident in several scenes and frames of dialogue where Lady Macbeth is seen to adopt more male characteristics than stereotypical woman characteristics. An example of this is when Lady Macbeth is being introduced in the play. The audience is introduced to Lady Macbeth’s sense of dominance and power which is not the average stereotypical trait of a woman. Lady Macbeth blatantly distinguishes herself as the dominant force in her relationship with Macbeth throughout majority of the play. For instance, when Macbeth is hesitant and perplexed of how to manage King Duncan’s visit to their home, Lady Macbeth instantly seizes control of the situation, demanding that Macbeth lets her take control of the situation as shown when she says, “Let me handle tonight’s preparations, because tonight will change every night and day for the rest of our lives.” (1.5. 57-60). This is an example of how the gender roles are reversed as the men/husbands of our society are usually portrayed as being assertive or dominant to handling situations, not the women/wives.
Lady Macbeth is also shown as being the motivating force her relationship with Macbeth. Her intentions are purely directed toward obtaining immediate power and status for Macbeth and herself. This is first seen after learning about the weird sisters’ prophecies. Lady Macbeth receives a letter from Macbeth telling of the weird sisters’ prophecies about him becoming king. Macbeth also mentions to Lady Macbeth that he plans on achieving the title of king through the murder of King Duncan. Lady Macbeth immediately starts the conceiving the murder of King Duncan and plans on how to act it out. She tell Macbeth to rest and let her take charge of the situation. This is made evident when Lady Macbeth says, “You should project a peaceful mood, because if you look troubled, you will arouse suspicion. Leave all the rest to me.” (1.5. 63-65).
Lady Macbeth isn’t bothered at all by the thought of murdering King Duncan in her own home and even directly after King Duncan’s death, she remains carefree, calm and untroubled by Macbeth’s treacherous deed. This is seen in the scene in which she scolds Macbeth when he forgets to leave the bloodstained daggers at the scene of the King Duncan’s murder. This is evident when she says, “Coward! Give me the daggers. Dead and sleeping people can’t hurt you any more than pictures can. Only children are afraid of scary pictures.” (2.2. 52-55).