The roles and actions actors of a certain gender should depict has been a widely debated topic for hundreds of years. Typically, women are passive and frail characters while men are expected to be aggressive and ambitious. Shakespeare toys with society’s expectations of gender roles in his play, “Macbeth”. Gender provides the main source of conflict in the play through the distortion of traditional gender roles, the apparent contrasts between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, and manipulation through gender.
Throughout the play many characters act in opposition to their expected gender roles. The best example of this is Lady Macbeth. As a woman, supporting character, we expect Lady Macbeth to be gentle and compromising. She is quite the opposite. When Macbeth sends Lady Macbeth a letter announcing Duncan’s stay and discussing the witches’ prophecies, power-hungry Lady Macbeth sees this as an opportunity. “Hie thee hither, /That I may pour my spirits in thine ear;/And chastise with the valour of my tongue,” she says to herself upon reading the letter.(1.5) Lady Macbeth’s confidence in manipulating her husband establishes her as the dominant partner in the relationship. Typical 17th century societal rules dictate that men should “rule” over their wives so this is an obvious reversal. Instead of being the generous hostess Lady Macbeth is expected to be, she takes advantage of her guests. When Duncan chooses to stay at the Inverness, she convinces her husband to instead kill him and take the throne. She advises Macbeth, “Look like th’ innocent flower,/ But be the serpent under’t.” (1.5) She uses Duncan’s vulnerability and trusting attitude for her own benefit. Lady Macbeth takes advantage of the reversed gender roles and dominance she has in the relationship and this sends Macbeth into a quick down-ward spiral and an uncontrollable killing spree. Not only does Lady Macbeth defy society’s expectations for her gender, but the witches do as well. The prophecies of the...
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