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Gender Roles in Shakespeare's Macbeth

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Emily McCulloch

on 12 December 2013

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Transcript of Gender Roles in Shakespeare's Macbeth

Gender Roles in Shakespeare's
The Literary Theory That Shows us Who Really 'Wears the Pants'
What is Gender Criticism?
"examines how sexual identity influences the creation and reception of literary works" (University of Mississippi)
began with feminist criticism and extended into "masculinist" criticism as well
Looks at the expectations of each gender and applies them to literature
Social forces keep men and women from achieving equality
How Does Gender Criticism
Apply to
Lady Macbeth
1) Women are not seen as powerful figures:
Lady Macbeth asks the spirits to 'unsex her' in order to achieve her desires (for Macbeth to be king)
She manipulates Macbeth and takes the lead in planning Duncan's murder
When Macbeth fails to complete the task, she takes the initiative to finish it for him
2) Men must be courageous
Duncan was very impressed with the soldier's stories about Macbeth's bravery and brutality on the battlefield
"but all's too weak for brave Macbeth"
Old Siward was proud that his son died 'bravely' with his wounds on his front. The fact that his son actually died was almost forgotten because he faced death honorably.
3) Men don't show weakness
When Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are plotting to kill Duncan, Macbeth feels as though they should not continue with their plans.
As a result, Lady Macbeth calls him cowardly and a "scaredy cat".
She insults his masculinity and Macbeth realizes that he has to follow through with the murder if he wants to be a man.
4) Men should not show emotion
When Macduff hears about the slaughter of his family, he reacts by getting very emotional.
Malcolm tells Macduff to "Dispute it like a man" (4.3 220-221) rather than cry about it.
Afterwards, Macduff agrees to help Malcom fight Macbeth.
5) Men do not need help
When Macbeth gains power and motivation after the killing of Duncan, he does not rely on Lady Macbeth for help to plan his murders any longer.
6) Women must have feminine
When Macbeth and Banquo come across the three witches, they are disgusted by their manly appearance.
A Call to Men: Tony Porter
"Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty!" (1.5.43-46)
Lady Macbeth directly asks the spirits to unsex her and fill her with cruelty because she needed 'manly traits' to succeed in killing Duncan.
"Prithee, peace:
I dare do all that may become a man;
Who dares do more is none" (1.7.49-51)
Macbeth believes, at first, that being a real man means doing what is proper and that doing anything beyond that would be unmanly (for example: Killing Duncan).
"What best was't , then,
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man"
Lady Macbeth uses a reference of manhood against him. She tells him that he was only a man when he dared to kill Duncan, not when he decided to be 'proper'.
"Dispute it like a man" (4.3.257)
When Macduff begins to get emotional about the murder of his family, Malcolm tells him to "fight like a man" or in other words, "man up"
"I shall do so;
But I must also feel it as a man"
Macduff expresses that he can't fight like a man without feeling like a man. He can't show his feelings if he's going to fight back.
The End.
Full transcript