Macbeth’s Gender Role Reversal Essay
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William Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth” completely challenges the idea of traditional gender roles and social norms during the renaissance period. The male characters have many feminine traits while the female characters have many more masculine and manlier traits. This was going entirely against the stereotypical outlook of the roles you’re supposed to play as your gender during that time of history. During the renaissance period women were only expected to clean, cook, and to have babies. Men on the other hand were typically expected to work hard and to provide for the home.
Socially women didn’t have power or respect and men were the ones who were supposed to be brave and tough at the best of times and the worst of times. That idea is challenged many times throughout Macbeth as their are several examples where Lady Macbeth remains strong while Macbeth crumbles and becomes weak. The play consistently challenges the society norms of gender roles.
It’s obvious the Macbeth’s don’t serve as your stereotypical husband and wife. Right away throughout the first couple of acts, Shakespeare introduces Lady Macbeth’s character as an assertive and dominant woman that makes the decisions over her husband Macbeth. Lady Macbeth really makes it apparent that she wears the pants in there relationship. For example, in scene 1 act 5 when Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth King Duncan is coming and he seems to be very hesitant on how he will handle the King’s presence. Lady Macbeth takes charge and asserts her dominance by saying, “He that’s coming/ Must be provided for, and you shall put/ This night’s great business into my dispatch” (scene 1 act 5 64-66).In traditional society, if the king is coming to your house, it would be very unusual for the lady of the house to be in charge of handling the appearance by the king.
Lady Macbeth and Macbeth also exchange roles in the way they handle their emotions and the way they handle the guilt. For instance, when it comes to the thought of murder and death, Lady Macbeth shows no mercy, and when King Duncan was murdered, she remained unphased by the act. This is apparent when she deals with Macbeth leaving the gory daggers at the site of the murder, “Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead/ Are but as pictures; ‘tis the eye of childhood/ That fears a painted devil.”(scene 2 act 2 56-58). Macbeth is portrayed as emotionally unstable and soft as he is afraid to even go back into the room where the murder took place, “I’ll go no more/ I am afraid to think what I have done”(scene 2 act 2 54-55). This interaction between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth really shows the unusual roles one another play in their relationship because, in a situation where someone is murdered or there is a serious crime, women aren’t usually the ones who are brave and strong-minded about it, men are.
As the play goes on, Lady Macbeth begins to lose her fierce and intimidating persona as Macbeth becomes the more assertive and dominant one. Lady Macbeth starts losing her edge when it becomes less difficult to get Macbeth to follow through with his murderous acts. Anytime Macbeth thinks you’re interfering with his kinship, he’ll have no problem taking you down and getting you out of his way. Macbeth no longer needs Lady Macbeth to persuade him. This is very apparent when he shows no mercy planning the murder of Banquo, “There’s comfort yet, they are assailable/ Then be thou jocund: ere the bat hath flown/ His cloistered flight, ere to black Hecate’s summons/ The shard-borne beetle with his drowsy hums/ Hath rung night’s yawning peal, there shall be done/ A deed of dreadful note” (scene 3 act 2 40-44). A completely different Macbeth we see out of this quote, no longer hesitant and no longer appearing to be affected by guilt.
Now that Macbeth is this individual who is ready and eager to kill, Lady Macbeth begins to show the side of her that wasn’t present at the beginning of the play, “Come on. Gentle my lord/ Sleek o’er your rugged looks, be bright and jovial/ Among your guests tonight” (act 3 scene 2 26-28). Lady Macbeth expresses emotion and traits of care, unlike any other time.
The play Macbeth features many different gender reversals throughout the entire play. Shakespeare really tests the normality of having women be the assertive and dominant one in a marriage while having the man be kind of timid and soft. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth’s gender reversals distinctively show the extreme traits one another possess and it gives an opposite perspective than what we are used to. Whatever goes up always must come down, and when Lady Macbeth and Macbeth begin to form into traditional gender roles, that becomes the start of their decline.