Macbeth Power Relations

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Macbeth Essay
Jess Ireson

William Shakespeare’s famous play ‘Macbeth’ both reflects and challenges power relations in the context of the seventeenth century. The play centres round the character Macbeth, who is brave, ambitious and has a tendency to self-doubt, and becomes a murderer due to his lust for power. The play focuses on Macbeth’s psyche and his downfall, yet it also portrays a variety of power relations. The relationship between men and women is represented by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship, and the constant change in gender roles. The theme of masculinity is common throughout the play, which is portrayed through contrasting views on gender. Another power relation in ‘Macbeth’ is the relationship between a king and his subjects. In the play there are two characters who are kings, Duncan and Macbeth, each display a contrasting portrayal of a king. Both characters differ due to their values and their relationship with their subjects. The relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, the theme of masculinity, the reversal in gender roles and the relationship between a King and his subjects will be discussed to explore how Shakespeare has challenged and reflected ideas about power relations. The relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth goes through different stages throughout the play. Their relationship challenges and also reinforces power relations, due to the swapping of roles. In the context of the play, which is seventeenth century, women had no rights and were seen purely as a wife and mother, who had to obey their husbands. However in Act one, Macbeth treats his wife as an equal. This is seen when Macbeth writes to his wife to tell her of the witches prophecies, which shows he values Lady Macbeth’s opinion, who he refers to as “...my dearest partner of greatness”. The letter seems to excite Lady Macbeth, though not because she will become Queen, but because she is truly happy for her husband. This is the first sign of the extremely strong bond between the couple. Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most strong and frightening female characters, as she is more ruthless, more ambitious and stronger than her husband. She knows Macbeth is “too full of the milk of human kindness” to murder Duncan, so she has to be there to persuade Macbeth to commit the murder. Her violent soliloquies in Act one, scenes five and seven show her to be the dominant role in their marriage, and challenge the idea that men are more powerful than women. Lady Macbeths’ soliloquy in Act one, scene five, is the first mention of the theme of masculinity, she cries out “unsex me here...Come to my woman’s breasts, And take my milk for gall”. This suggests that her womanhood is impeding her from performing acts of violence, therefore preventing her from killing Duncan herself. The scene however shows us that Lady Macbeth is more than capable of murdering Duncan, or at least organising it. To Lady Macbeth, cruelty and violence are associated with masculinity, and that manhood is defined my murder. She also asks the spirits to “fill me...top-full of direst cruelty”, and to have remorse prevented in her. Lady Macbeth is proven to be more ambitious and cruel, and therefore more masculine than her husband, which is explored further in Act one, scene seven. The audience’s introduction to Lady Macbeth has already confirmed the gender roles in Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s relationship, and firmly suggests that Lady Macbeth is the dominant power. In Act one, scene seven, the Macbeth’s relationship and the theme of masculinity is explored further. In the previous scenes, Lady Macbeth is portrayed to be more masculine, as masculinity is associated with violence. Macbeth is portrayed as being brave during the first few scenes, as Banquo says “he unseamed him from the nave to th’chops”, when describing Macbeth’s slaying of Macdonald. These descriptions portray Macbeth as brave, heroic and strong. However Lady Macbeth views him in a...
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