What is the measure of a man? Analyze the shifting nature of masculinity in Macbeth and explain what effect this has on your understanding of masculinity.
Macbeth is a famous play written in 1606 by an English playwright named William Shakespeare. The play is about Macbeth, a Scottish general, who is madly driven by his ambitious desires to become king and thus, performs immoral acts to achieve his goal, resulting in disastrous outcomes. Throughout the play, Shakespeare explores the paradoxical concept of “masculinity”, which appears constantly as traits in different characters and shifts throughout the plot.
The Jacobean audience views men as the dominating gender; however, paradoxically, masculinity is strongly controlled by female characters in the play. During the Jacobean era, men were considered to be authoritative and protective, which is how Shakespeare portrayed Macbeth in the beginning of the play. Initially, Macbeth is depicted as a courageous warrior who, with his “brandished steel/ which smoked bloody execution” (I.ii.17-18), slaughtered the enemy and “unseamed him from the nave to th’chaps.” Words such as “brandished”, “smoked”, “bloody”, and “unseam” provide a form of gory, and vivid imagery that amplifies the heroic image of Macbeth, which can persuade the audience of Macbeth’s manliness. Ironically, Macbeth’s “masculinity” is constantly controlled by female characters in the play. When Macbeth refuses to participate in the evil scheme of killing the king, Lady Macbeth purposefully provokes him by saying, “Wouldst thou have that/ Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life,/ And live a coward in thine own esteem…” (I.vii.41-43) By referring to Macbeth as a “coward”, Lady Macbeth insults her husband’s masculinity, and thus, provokes his desire to prove his manhood, which eventually causes Macbeth to participate in the murder of King Duncan. In addition, the three witches are other female characters that dominate Macbeth. When Macbeth meets the...
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