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. This is evident in how Macbeth acts right before and after the murder of King Duncan.
Lady Macbeth is not displayed as the traditional medieval era wife. When Lady Macbeth is being introduced we can see the sense of dominance and power in her character over her husband, Macbeth, which is not the average stereotypical trait of a woman. Lady Macbeth blatantly distinguishes herself as the dominant force in the relationship. For instance, when Macbeth is hesitant 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).
The gender reversals of the Macbeth’s throughout the play are evidently represented in multiple ways such as, their amount of ambition, dominance and assertiveness in their marriage, guilt, and personalities. Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth” explores and de es the idea of traditional gender standards through the plot progression within Macbeth, in which the roles of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are reversed. Macbeth challenges the explicit gender norms that society has placed on, both past and present, men and women. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth switch gender roles and explicitly show the dominant traits that the other gender clearly possess. Lady Macbeth clearly breaks several gender norms and expectations with her heartless and evident masculine nature as Macbeth did the same with his more feminine characteristics. Yet, the plot progression throughout the play negatively shows how the characters transition into more of their gender roles and how it leads to their downfall.