The invited reading of Shakespeare’s ‘Lady Macbeth’ depicting gender roles By Kaylah Karwan
William Shakespeare ‘permeates almost all aspects of our society,’ and speaks ‘to us through his plays’ by commenting ‘on his life and culture as well as our own’ (Sir George Williams University, 2000). This is no different in his acclaimed play Macbeth, which tells the story of nobleman Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth who plot and murder the king of Scotland in order to obtain the throne, exposing “human nature, ambition, evil, gender, human relationships, kingship,” (Sir George Williams University, 2000) and supernatural forces. The play explores the ideologies and cultural assumptions of witchcraft, gender roles, the great chain of being, divine rights of kings, role of women, religion and social hierarchy, reflecting Shakespeare’s society at the time. As demonstrated in the previous audio clip, his character, ‘Lady Macbeth,’ challenges, yet reflects the societal value and ideology of ‘gender roles,’ which leads to her demise. Through the extensive analysis of Jacobean society, the character construction of ‘Lady Macbeth,’ and the use of literary devices, it can be demonstrated that Shakespeare positions his audience to accept this invited reading- the replacement of natural order through the punishment of Lady Macbeth. Written in the early 1600s, Macbeth was written in an era where witchcraft was practiced and gender roles, were strongly defined. It is the patriarchal power structure of the Jacobean era that saw the suppression of women, as they “were seen by many to be inferior to men during the Middle Ages,” (Women in the middle ages, 2001 – 2007). AnAAd “during the period in which Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, there were distinct societal expectations about the roles of men and women,” (Marotous, 2011). In the great chain of being, which heavily influenced their civilisation, these societal expecations are exhibited, with women falling below men. Although women were considerd inferior to men, many historians claim that ‘behind every ambitious man is a woman who helps drive him to great heights and extremes to further their own goals and prestige as well,” (The Life and Roles of Elizabethan Era Women, 2012) which is demonstrated in Macbeth, through Shakespeare’s construction of Lady Macbeth. In Macbeth, the middle ages interpretation of the play, “explores questions about the roles of women through the character of Lady Macbeth, who is not content to take the traditional subjugated role of a wife,” (Sir George Williams University, 2000). She is constructed by Shakespeare, to challenge the typical gender roles of the ‘Jacobean’ era, rebelling against the conventional ‘submissive wife’ stereotype. This presentation of her character has “attracted accusations of misogyny from critics of the time it was written because all the women in the play are manipulative and evil,” (Lady Macbeth Character Analysis , 2012). As an example, Lady Macduff simply questioned her husband going to war, and Shakespeare ‘killed her.’ For this reason, “the audience would have felt no sympathy for her and would have disliked her immediately due to her cruel ways,” (Tate, 2009). The audience of Shakespeare’s time interpreted her as one of his most infamous ‘femme fatale’” characters, and she is “the main instigator in the plot to kill the king,” (Lady Macbeth Character Analysis , 2012), as shown in this short clip. “Lady Macbeth not only subverts the idea of complete submission, but also decisively challenges her husband’s masculinity… [and ability as a lover, which would not have been taken lightly in Shakespeare’s time]" (Marotous, 2011), by saying “Art thou afeard, to be the same in thine own act and valour, As thou art in desire?” (1.7.3). These interpretations of Lady Macbeth, become synonymous with her actions and behaviour in the tragedy. The actions exhibited by Lady Macbeth throughout the play demonstrate how Shakespeare constructed her...
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