Power and Ambition

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William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’, is the story of a usurping General, Lord Macbeth, and his wife Lady Macbeth who are driven to murder their king in pursuit of the throne and power. The tragedy has multiple reoccurring themes and motifs, of which Shakespeare uses many aesthetic features to effectively develop and enhance. One such theme is Masculinity vs. Femininity which resounds throughout the entirety of the play and is a central focus point during many events. Shakespeare uses imagery, symbolism and metaphor very effectively during the course of the play to augment and pinpoint important developments and changes to the characters and their states of masculinity and femininity. At the time that Shakespeare wrote his plays the values and attitudes were vastly different to those of modern society. Women were considered the fairer sex while men were considered the dominant sex. In Macbeth, this view is approached with the idea that masculinity carried with it the ability to kill and commit sin while femininity in its ideal was softer, gentler and comprised of virtue.

Shakespeare demonstrates this ideal very early in the play when, in Act 1, Scene 5, Lady Macbeth calls out, “Come you spirits that tend on human thoughts! Unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top full of direst cruelty.” This happens directly after receiving notice from her husband that the witches’ prophecy had come true and that the king was to be joining them in their castle. At this point in the play she is asking the spirits to take away her femininity, a literal unsexing, and fill her with a ‘direst cruelty’ that she, as a woman, did not already possess so that she could have the ability to kill her king. This idea of femininity causing an inability to kill, indeed needing to become masculine to be able to commit the crime demonstrates Shakespeare’s ideal of women being pure while men have evil in their very being. The use of this imagery and figurative language, ‘direst...
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