To Be a Woman – Macbeth Essay
During the Elizabethan era, men were viewed as the most prestigious gender. Not only were ladies expected to be subservient to their husbands, but they were also dependent on their male relatives to support them. Consequentially, this created the vision of the perfect woman: dutiful, compliant, and fundamentally quintessential in every way. In his play, Macbeth, Shakespeare utilizes foil to staunchly vocalize that all women should be delicate and subservient by comparing Lady Macbeth to herself, her husband, and Lady Macduff through their actions and behaviors.
Although Lady Macbeth may seem masculine towards the commencement of the drama, her descent into insanity causes her to behave more ladylike than she did at the beginning of the play: a direct assertion of Shakespeare’s view that all women should act feminine. When she first acquires the explanatory note from Macbeth, Lady Macbeth immediately forms malicious thoughts in her mind. “Your hand, your tongue”, she explicates to Macbeth, “Look like th’ innocent/flower,/But be the serpent under’t” (1.6.76-78). During this scene, Lady Macbeth’s bloodthirsty nature is revealed. However, over the course of the play, the image of her alters significantly. During her sleepwalk, Lady Macbeth lives through the night of the murder, divulging her true thoughts to the audience. “Here’s the smell of the blood still” she cries fretfully, “All/the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little/hand” (5.1.53-55). By inducing her husband into committing homicide, Shakespeare intentionally creates a foil between Macbeth and his wife, differentiating their natures. Lady Macbeth, a woman, is delicate and succumbs to her sentiments, while Macbeth, a man, is able to push aside his feelings and be audacious: the very opposite of his wife. Even Lady Macbeth, a woman who seemed to have so many manly characteristics, evolves to follow the playwright’s view. Lady Macbeth’s plummet to lunacy fosters her more emotional self, exposing Shakespeare’s true belief that all females are far less plucky and potent than their male relatives.
The plot of Macbeth intentionally juxtaposes Lady Macduff and Lady Macbeth, using their comparison to illustrate that all women should behave decorously. When Lady Macduff is informed of her husband’s fleeing Scotland, she is taken aback. “Wisdom?” she cried in agony, “To leave his wife, to leave his babes” (4.2.8). Lady Macduff’s outburst of discontent reveals her to be a very histrionic woman who behaves exactly how women Shakespeare thinks they should: dramatic, anxious, and always the damsel in distress. Not only does Lady Macduff cry out against Ross’ claim that her husband is wise, but she also wishes to protect her child. Contrary to Lady Macduff, Lady Macbeth is a more masculine figure during the commencement of the play, best seen during her desire to kill Duncan. “Come you spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts,” shouted Lady Macbeth, “unsex me here” (1.5.47-48). In comparison to the malevolence of Lady Macbeth, Lady Macduff is an angel. Clearly, the playwright emphasizes the essential difference to reveal that females should behave like the latter. Both Lady Macbeth’s and Macduff’s behaviors are a reflection of their personalities, foiled against each other in order to strengthen Shakespeare’s views that women should be dependent on men.
Shakespeare uses Lady Macbeth’s interactions with her husband to represent the fragility of womankind and the docility they should have towards their husbands. When Lady Macbeth laments to Macbeth that she covets the ability to kill Duncan, the restrictions of her gender first start to show. “My hands are of your color”, she wails, “but I shame/To wear a heart so white” (2.2.82-83). Although Shakespeare states that she felt a strong aversion to assassinate Duncan due to his resemblance to her father, the true reason is not so superficial: giving Lady Macbeth the power to do commit homicide does not align with his belief that women should be cordial. Her inability to kill Duncan, therefore, perfectly reflects his views, obliging Lady Macbeth to be contingent on her husband. Her forced obedience to Macbeth continues when he plots to kill Banquo, choosing to keep his actions undisclosed. “Be innocent of knowledge, dearest chuck/”, Macbeth dictates to his wife, “Till thou applaud the deed” (3.3.51-52). Clearly, he resolves to keep his plans a secret from Lady Macbeth, forcing her to wait to find out until the