Top-Rated Free Essay

Feminism and Macbeth

Better Essays
Topics: Macbeth
Macbeth and Illusions It is a truth universally acknowledged that things are often not what they seem. William Shakespeare’s Macbeth is recognized as one of the earliest literary examples utilizing the theme of reversal of reality. In Macbeth, appearances and symbols are deceptive, alluding to the characters they describe. One of the ways many character flaws and plot progressions are realized is through the use of blood imagery, which is plentiful yet significant throughout the play. The existence of literal blood, though mentioned in a plethora of scenes, is outweighed by the presence of figurative blood, which arguably makes the greater impact as a symbol upon the characters. Blood, and the imagery associated with it, appears over forty times in Macbeth. Blood imagery, which is initially presented as a badge of honor, morphs through the play to represent guilt, then evil, and finally honor once more. The symbolism associated with blood is rooted in Macbeth’s introduction in the play, in which he accepts the credit for his bravery in war. Macbeth’s skill with killing is illuminated by the Captain’s description of his sword, which is “smoked with bloody execution” (1.2.19). The detailed retelling of Macbeth’s heroics glorifies his bloodshed as valiance. In the beginning of the play, Macbeth spilled blood due to his soldierly duty. The acclaim that the bloody sword brings Macbeth, including his initiation as Thane of Cawdor, indirectly gives birth to the attention he will continue to gain for future ‘bloody’ events. Noted Shakespeare critic Charles Haines describes Macbeth as “a relentless spectacle in red and black” (Haines, 108), noting the coexistence of blood and evil, and suggesting that neither can exist without the other in its presence.
Macbeth’s killing morphs from the dutiful job of a soldier to the selfish deed of a man, emphasizing the exchange of honor for evil and guilt. Immediately after his crowning as Thane of Cawdor, Macbeth encounters the three witches in the forest. The prophecy they make in front of him drives him into a psychotic scheme that ultimately results in the murder of King Duncan. Macbeth’s brave nobility quickly becomes crazed guilt, tainted by inner evil desires, as can be illustrated by his hallucination in Act 2:
Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? Or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? (2.1.41-47) Amidst his preparations for Duncan’s murder, Macbeth sees a “dagger of the mind” (2.1.46) floating in the air, pointed in the direction of the sleeping king. The timing and placement of the dagger’s appearance foreshadow Duncan’s murder, which Macbeth is very close to committing. However, the “dudgeon gouts of blood” (2.1.54) on the imaginary dagger anticipates the gruesome reality of the execution Macbeth has planned. This description creates the image of a knife, bloodied from its wound to its tip, foretelling the exact horrors that will spill King Duncan’s blood. However, following the actual murder, it is evident that Duncan’s body is not the only deeply wounded entity. It is from this scene forward that the previous honor that bloodshed brought Macbeth is now tainted by guilt, evil, and corruption. While plotting the murder of King Duncan with Macbeth, Lady Macbeth asks to “make thick my blood” (1.5.50), in order to be left remorseless and able to live with the inhumane deeds she and her husband are planning. She presents a hardened exterior, unaffected by even the most gruesome of events, asserting that “a little water clears us of this deed” (2.2.86) after her husband kills a man. Throughout the murders themselves, Lady Macbeth displays a confidence and remorselessness that is necessary to keep her husband focused and sane. The guilt of Duncan’s murder affects him much more than it does her. He inquires
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas in incarnadine,
Making the green one red. (2.2.81-84)
Macbeth is so overcome by what he has done that he believes not even all the water in the ocean could wipe away the blood from his hands. Macbeth, though unable to explicitly admit it, is deeply affected by the acts he commits that he is unable to fully address what he has done. Both the bloodied dagger and Macbeth’s own bloodied hands signify the lasting effects of bloodshed; though remnants of a misdeed might be washed into the ocean or blanketed with false blame, the guilt of the crime never truly leaves the minds of those at fault. Though bloodshed magnifies Macbeth’s inner guilt, Lady Macbeth’s reaction to the murders is what ultimately leads to her demise. Though she is consistently presented as a callous and aggressive character, Lady Macbeth exemplifies in Act 5 that all of the murders she plotted and oversaw had more than a lasting effect to her subconscious. Attempting to stifle her emotions, which are essentially her only evidence of humanity, simply covers the greater problem for Lady Macbeth, allowing her inner demons to build and tear apart at her sanity. By the end of the play, Lady Macbeth, the same woman who encouraged her husband to wash up after murdering a man is consumed by the same guilt her husband felt immediately after the murder. Lady Macbeth’s sleepwalking scene is arguably the most blatant example of the effects of blood imagery on a character’s guilty conscience. This scene makes it evident that the effects of Duncan’s murder never were truly erasable, with or without water. In the scene, a distraught Lady Macbeth sleepwalks and compulsively washes the nonexistent blood from her hands, murmuring “Yet here is a spot” (5.1.42). Though her hands never were tainted with any blood, Lady Macbeth’s guilt consumes her completely, and she finds it impossible to wash away her guilt. Macbeth’s first instance of bloodshed brought him fame and recognition, and by the end of the play, it is through Macbeth’s death that this theme comes full-circle. By bringing down King Duncan’s murderer, Macduff affirms similar status and glory to that initially bestowed upon Macbeth by Duncan. The similarities between Macduff’s victory and Macbeth’s are numerous, yet their different personalities indicate that Macduff might not have the same ending as did his unfortunate predecessor. Much like Macbeth’s “bloody” sword in Act 1 (1.2.19), Macduff’s tainted weapon serves as a badge of honor for him. The two bloodied swords are able to be compared as parallels, allowing for the discernible power struggle Macbeth battles with to be noticed.
William Shakespeare, through few words (Macbeth is heralded by Charles Haines as “one of Shakespeare's shortest plays, containing just 2,108 lines” (Haines, 105)) and repeated symbols, highlights the emotional and mental effects of bloodshed upon the main characters in Macbeth. He illuminates the cyclical nature of people’s reactions toward murder, from the bestowing of glory to the domination of grief, only to end the tale with the play’s hero being exterminated as the enemy, and the shedding of his blood gaining honor for his enemy. Staying true to the utterances by the three witches in Act 1, Shakespeare accurately depicts that “Fair is foul and foul is fair” (1.1.12). A hero might turn out to be a villain, and the death of a man might turn out to be for the better good. Through his extensive use of blood imagery, Shakespeare leaves one underlying message: don’t judge a book by its cover.

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Powerful Essays

    Feminism in Macbeth

    • 1721 Words
    • 7 Pages

    Feminism is the Source of Tragedy in Macbeth Behind every successful man there is a ruthless woman pushing him along to gain her own personal successes. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth causes Macbeths downfall. With the faults and lies of Lady Macbeth, marriage is Macbeth’s big mistake. Lady Macbeth turns his courageous conquests on the fields of war into butchery. Mangled by the blood-spotted hands of his wife he becomes a traitor to himself, the people around him, and even her. In the…

    • 1721 Words
    • 7 Pages
    Powerful Essays
  • Good Essays

    Psychoanalysis and feminism In ‘’ Macbeth’’ William Shakespeare is one of the best writers of the Renaissance. He is unforgettable person and admired by young and older people. His works are used in mass media and popular culture. His plays are always alive in art, television, theatre. In the essay there would be discussed the most popular female character found in his play " Macbeth"- Lady Macbeth. She is an extraordinary example of the person who was analysed by psychoanalysis. One of the person…

    • 546 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    The play Macbeth by William Shakespeare is worthy of critical study by reason of inspecting essential human qualities that are still significant to common people at different times and places of the world despite huge contextual differences. Shakespeare’s works have been worthy of examination because they give us insight into the human condition rather then living a life under a religious perspective. Shakespeare suggests that people have the ability to decide their own fate, yet the decisions affect…

    • 1013 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    Feminism Liberal Feminism

    • 4836 Words
    • 14 Pages

    Brewer, P. (2004) ‘‘Frederick Engels: The Origin of The Family, Private Property, and the State’’ from http://readingfromtheleft.com/PDF/EngelsOrigin.pdf 8 9. Knaus, K. (2007) ‘‘ Turkish Women: A Century Of Change ’’ 10 11. Freedman, J. (2001) ‘‘ Feminism’’ Open University Press 12…

    • 4836 Words
    • 14 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Good Essays

    Feminism

    • 1137 Words
    • 7 Pages

    FEMINISM Introduction to Sociology Feminism Belief in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. The movement organized around this belief. Feminism Feminist Theory is an outgrowth of the general movement to empower women worldwide. Feminism can be defined as a recognition and critique of male supremacy combined with efforts to change it. Feminism The goals of feminism are: To demonstrate the importance of women To reveal that historically women have been subordinate to men…

    • 1137 Words
    • 7 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Powerful Essays

    feminism

    • 8781 Words
    • 27 Pages

    Feminism From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia "Feminists" redirects here. For other uses, seeFeminists (disambiguation) Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, cultural, and social rights for women.[1]HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminism" \l "cite_note-2"[2] This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. Afeminist advocates or supports the rights and…

    • 8781 Words
    • 27 Pages
    Powerful Essays
  • Good Essays

    Feminism

    • 577 Words
    • 3 Pages

    What is feminism? British journalist Rebecca West once said, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” Feminism is a mixture of beliefs, ideas, and movements about what it is like for women in a male dominant society (Lewis, Jone. “Definition”). Men are deemed the “dominant sex” although they have their faults and issues. Feminism was brought forth by many women that did not want to stand silent anymore, women that wanted their equality. Women history named, “Feminists.” Not only was…

    • 577 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Good Essays
  • Satisfactory Essays

    Feminism

    • 518 Words
    • 3 Pages

    Sociology Homework Feminism: * Feminism is a social movement that has taken it’s discourse over the past hundred years. Feminist sociologists look at the inequalities between men and women in society. * Feminist sociologists believe that society is built on conflict – (disagreement) between men and women, they believe that men have all the power in society and that it is unfair towards women. * There is more than one type of feminism, although all believe that there is some issue…

    • 518 Words
    • 3 Pages
    Satisfactory Essays
  • Better Essays

    Feminism

    • 1156 Words
    • 4 Pages

    Assignment 2 (Q) Assess the contribution of feminism to an understanding of society. (1,200-1,500). Feminism is a movement that argues that women suffer injustices in society because of their gender. “Like Marxists, Feminists take a critical view of the family and see that family as an institution that benefits men more than women and children” (Webb, R. ‘et al’, 2008, pg.43.). The development of feminism has led to attention being focused on the subordinate position of women in many societies…

    • 1156 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Better Essays
  • Good Essays

    Feminism

    • 298 Words
    • 2 Pages

    The focus will be on the conflict between feminist ideals, assumptions and demands behind what known as feminism. Feminism has evolved dramatically over time, which makes finding a widely accepted set of feminist ideas an impossible task. However, Webster’s dictionary (2007, p230) defines feminism as a theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. Therefore, feminism is based around the idea of men and women being equal. On the other hand, feminist is also defined as ‘an…

    • 298 Words
    • 2 Pages
    Good Essays