What Does it Mean to be a Man or a Woman?
A theme the tragedy of Macbeth routinely reveals is one of gender roles. Throughout the play, many characters struggle with conflict within themselves; not unlike conflicts that we face inside ourselves today. Various major conflicts throughout the screenplay are somehow connected with characters’ roles as men or women. The dominant question is, do the characters know who they are as men and women?
Although Macbeth’s age was never stated, it is concluded from his naivety and emotional immaturity throughout the play that he might not be much older than a current college student. Young adulthood sometimes contains an internal struggle to find oneself, not only working to discover who they are as a person, but they are as a man or a woman. As demonstrated many times throughout the script, Macbeth is internally fighting with his masculine instincts. For example, in Act I, the captain, Duncan, and Malcolm discuss Macbeth’s “heroic” and violent tendencies (Macbeth I.2.15-22).
From childhood, men thrive to be a hero. Sometimes, in their minds, that means being rashly violent as well. So when these men mention Macbeth’s unnecessarily brutal strategies, it makes one see the battle Macbeth must be struggling with to gain the role of “hero” in others’ eyes.
The witches also play a part in Macbeth’s battle of identification with himself. The bearded women plant the seed of ambition in Macbeth. Macbeth realizes that he is lusting after the throne and the power that comes with it. But, at first, he does not know how to deal with it.
(“If good, why do I yield to that suggestion
Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair
And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature? Present fears
Are less than horrible imaginings.
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man
That function is smothered in surmise,
And nothing is but what is not.”) (I.3.135-143).
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