Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth” explores and challenges the idea of traditional gender roles.. The female characters in this play have a strong sense of masculine traits while the male characters are show no opposing traits, this is reversing the stereotypical roles of genders. One of the typical gender norms in society is that men are the workers and providers and essentially the strength of the family, as women take more of a nurturing and caring role and are labeled as emotional and inferior. From this, a man’s physical strength is represented as being strong and brave at superior and horrific times, yet in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, it shows that the men, can end up weak while the women remain “strong” which is shown multiple times between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. The roles between the two progressively change throughout the play showing how the stereotypical gender norms are challenged and explored.
From the beginning we can see how lady Macbeth and Macbeth don’t do not portray the stereotypical husband and wife. Within the first couple acts of the play when Lady Macbeth is being introduced we can see the sense of dominance and power in her character over her husband, Macbeth, which would be an abnormal trait of a woman for a Jacobean audience to be faced with. Lady Macbeth blatantly distinguishes herself as the dominant force in the relationship. For instance, when Macbeth is hesitant of how to manage King Duncan’s visit to their home, Lady Macbeth instantly seizes control of the situation, demanding that Macbeth lets her take control of the situation as shown in “Let me handle tonight’s preparations, because tonight will change every night and day for the rest of our lives.” This is an example of how the gender roles are reversed as the men/husbands of our society are usually displayed as being assertive or dominant to handling situations, not the women/wives.
Macbeth and his wife also switch roles in terms of the ambition they show. While both characters seem to crave power, it is Lady Macbeth who is initially presented as the motivating force in the relationship. Her intentions are purely directed toward securing immediate power. For example, after she had been told about the witches’ predictions, she immediately creates a murder plan and takes charge of the situation. This is made evident as she emotionlessly explains to her husband, “You should project a peaceful mood, because if you look troubled, you will arouse suspicion. Leave all the rest to me.” However, Macbeth’s first reaction to the prophecy is somehow different in that he is hesitant of what actions should be done to successfully seal his future, stating “The dangers that actually threaten me here and now frighten me less than the horrible things I’m imagining. Even though it’s just a fantasy so far, the mere thought of committing murder shakes me up so much that I hardly know who I am anymore.” Macbeth is at unease however lady macbeth reassured him which is another way that Shakespeare shows a change of gender roles.
Macbeth is clearly disturbed by the murder and is troubled by the thought even before completing their plan. When talking about King Duncan he states, “The king trusts me in two ways. First of all, I am his kinsman and his subject, so I should always try to protect him. Second, I am his host, so I should be closing the door in his murderer’s face, not trying to murder him myself.” showing how hesitant and reluctant he is to betray and proceed with murdering King Duncan. This shows how the typical gender norms are challenged through Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, as both lady Macbeth’s and Macbeth’s ‘ gender roles are clearly in contrast to the typical gender norms that society has in just about every aspect.
as the play continues, it is apparent that it becomes reversed as Lady Macbeth begins to lose her edge and assumes the more submissive role, while Macbeth assumes the assertive position. As Lady Macbeth begins to unravel, Macbeth becomes the more dominant and stronger force. She no longer has to instigate or persuade him to murder; as he starts to do so on his own. Whenever Macbeth fears someone stands in his way to maintain his kingship, he immediately develops plans for their murder. This is made obvious through his lack of care for Banquo when arranging his murder as seen Lady Macbeth is clearly seen manipulating people for her own benefit (which seems to be a common technique for her), such as frequently challenging Macbeth’s manhood, which she uses in convincing him into killing King Duncan as seen here “When you durst do it, then you when you were a man”
While earlier Macbeth was reluctant to murder and was therefore pressured to do so by his wife, Lady Macbeth, he rapidly changes into an individual ready to kill, while Lady Macbeth insists, “You have to stop talking like this” which differs from her previous desire and plea for him to take immediate action. In opposition, as the play begins to reach its conclusion, Lady Macbeth finds herself plagued by guilt. Macbeth, however, is no longer troubled by the guilt of murder, which he makes clear through the increasing number of people he has killed, including Macduff’s entire family. This description of Macbeth’s obvious lack of guilt directly resembles Lady Macbeth’s previous attitudes at the beginning acts of the play.
The gender reversals of the Macbeth’s throughout the play are evidently represented in multiple ways such as , their amount of ambition, dominance and assertiveness in their marriage, guilt, and personalities. Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth” explores the idea of traditional gender standards through the plot progression within Macbeth, in which the roles of Lady Macbeth and Macbeth are reversed. Macbeth challenges the explicit gender norms that society has placed on them. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth switch gender roles and explicitly show the dominant traits that the other gender clearly possess. Yet, the plot progression throughout the play negatively shows how the characters transition into more of their gender roles and how it leads to their downfall.