Macbeth and Feminism

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Shakespeare's Macbeth is a tragedy that embodies the polarities of male and female power, a play which seems to dramatize the deep divisions that characterize male-female relationships in all his plays. As Janet Adelman writes, "In the figures of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and the witches, the play gives us images of a masculinity and a femininity that are terribly disturbed." At the same time, critics have tended to discuss the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth in a way that further highlights this division, viewing Macbeth as a victim of overpowering feminine influences that characterize the world around him, from the appearance of the bearded Witches at the beginning of the play, to the presence of Lady Macbeth throughout. Sigmund Freud writes of Lady Macbeth, that her sole purpose throughout the play is "that of overcoming the scruples of her ambitious and yet tender-minded husband...She is ready to sacrifice even her womanliness to her murderous intention...” For many feminist critics, however, the opinion of Freud and other critics that Macbeth is merely a victim of feminine plotting is an unsatisfactory response to this play. On the most basic level, it is Macbeth who actually murders the king while Lady Macbeth is the one who cleans up the mess.

A more fruitful approach would be a closer examination of the different types of women who are being represented throughout the play, rather than viewing the women en masse, as part of a dark and evil force "ganging up" on Macbeth. Indeed, feminist criticism can help to point the way towards a clearer understanding of the sort of society Shakespeare is portraying in this tragedy. Terry Eagleton points out his belief that "the witches are the heroines of the piece", As the most fertile force in the play, the witches inhabit an anarchic, richly ambiguous zone both in and out of official society; they live in their own world but intersect with Macbeth's. Theyare poets, prophetesses and devotees of female...
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