Femininity In Macbeth Essay

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The play ‘Macbeth’ predates the concept of feminism and therefore equality between the sexes both in the political and personal spheres was unheard of. As a result the women within the narrative are often marginalised and void of any power. In the cases where women do have influence they are either criticised and isolated or treated as strange, supernatural creatures. However, this would have conformed to the original audience’s expectations as women were seen as subordinate to men. Their responsibilities included managing the household, raising children and obeying their husbands; these were their only real roles in society, as a wife and a mother, and were inextricably associated with ideals of femininity. Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ demonstrates …show more content…
In the opening scenes of the play Lady Macbeth is presented as a transgressive and anti-maternal female, claiming she would have ‘dashed the brains’ of her child if it stood in the way of her goal. In this way she diametrically opposes Lady Macduff who appears to embody the expectations of femininity as both a protective maternal character and a woman who does not strive for power. Other than Lady Macduff the only female character that is not criticised is Macduff’s mother who dies before the narrative takes place and is subsequently voiceless. Furthermore, as Macduff was ‘untimely ripped’ from his mother’s womb she had no role in the birth of her son, this is especially significant as it shows how she didn’t perform the main action that women of the time were allowed to do- leaving her with no purpose and no possibility of fulfilling the maternal criteria of a woman. Possibly causing her to resemble the witches who also did not fulfil their role as mothers yet, because she died, she is not villainised as they are. On the other hand, throughout the play even ‘fiend-like’ Lady Macbeth undergoes a transformation from the ‘strong’ woman to the vulnerable maiden character as her psychological state deteriorates. This destabilises the oppositions between her and Lady Macduff and makes it possible to see similarities between their characters especially as both wives are left “innocent of the knowledge” by their husbands who ‘abandon’ them in order to maintain their country. Furthermore, representations of Lady Macbeth as anti-maternal could be undermined, as, although she says she could “dash the brains” of her child she never actually committed the action. Foregrounded in the

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