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Lady Macbeth, Gender, and Witchcraft

In the tragedy of Macbeth, Shakespeare uses the play to challenge the role of women in society. The character of Macbeth presents the audience with an ambitious woman married to a powerful husband. In the space, Lady Macbeth is not overly concerned with the feminine roles of domestic housekeeping. She is a bold and ambitious woman more concerned about the affairs of the state and how she can elevate her husband’s position. At the start, her drive to see her husband prosper comes off as good-natured until she starts being manipulative. In the play, Shakespeare effectively explores the theme of free will by walking the audience through how the characters in the play are being manipulated. Lady Macbeth does not fit in with the mainstream image as she comes off as headstrong contrary to the agreeable nature that was considered feminine. In the play, Shakespeare uses the character of Lady Macbeth to challenge the notion of how a woman is supposed to behave by presenting the audience with a woman that is outspoken about what she wants. While society perceives women as weak and meek, Lady Macbeth is witty and wields a more effective form of power (Thomas, Catherine, 31,81). She is a wise and manipulative woman who knows how to bend her husband with her femininity.

Shakespeare uses Lady Macbeth to explore a different form of power, the power of seduction with a touch of manipulation. In Lady Macbeth, we see how women hold a subtle form of energy. Women can manipulate powerful men to do their bidding without using aggressive means. This view of women challenges the notion that women are powerless and harmless. In the play, we see the role of Lady Macbeth in Duncan’s murder. Subtly, the space is cautioning against the over-involvement of women in their husbands’ affairs as Lady Macbeth steers her husband towards a darker path, edging him closer to his downfall. In the heat of her ambition, Lady Macbeth turns to witches challenging the natural order of things further. When Lady Macbeth hears of Duncan’s impending visit, she screams out, “Come, you spirits, That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty” (Macbeth I.5.38-41). In this scene, we see a more combative woman with several masculine traits. Lady Macbeth comes off as more ambitious than her husband as the plot unfolds. While Shakespeare explores the notion that women are more powerful than the larger society perceives them, he also implies that the power has to be used responsibly. The guilt of all the deaths consumes Lady Macbeth she is responsible for in the pursuit of power, and she loses her mind resorting to suicide (Greenberg, Yael, 13-19). The tragic ending is a caution to challenging the natural order of things by exploring an ambitious woman who led her husband to his downfall. While the view proposed in the play is that women have a role to play in more serious matters, their over-involvement in the matters results in manipulation.

By working with the three sisters, Lady Macbeth is presented as an immoral woman with immense greed. The plot to manipulate her husband’s decision by working with the three weird sisters shows the height of her manipulative ploys. The three weird sisters are also used to show a disruption in gender roles. While women are expected to be beautiful and attractive, the weird sisters are hideous in appearance; on encountering them, Banquo says, ”You should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so” (Macbeth I.2.45-47). These sisters represent a disruption in the natural order of things from the offset. Their involvement in black magic gives them a more sinister and mystical appearance. Their hideous appearance builds on the malice they portray to society. The involvement of Macbeth with the witches is presented as the fall of the king, while his wife is consumed by the guilt that comes from working with the witches. Shakespeare presents witchcraft as a vice that nothing good comes in the play. We see that the culture is largely male-dominated, and women have designated gender roles to play in the space. The three weird sisters live outside the rules of society as recluses. These sisters are used to represent evil as they serve to cause malice. Lady Macbeth chose to work with them; this shows a disregard for morals. In the buildup of the plot, the tragedy unfolds as a moral lesson that choices do carry consequences.

In the tragedy of Macbeth, Shakespeare uses the character of Lady Macbeth to show how abuse of power leads to corruption of morals. Lady Macbeth is presented as a ruthless immoral woman who holds values such as empathy and compassion in little regard. She is willing to cut down anybody who will stand in her way or her husband’s way to power. We see a more evil version of her capable of hatching a wicked plan to get Duncan killed; after the murder, her husband is scared, but Lady Macbeth is more worried about the cover-up. As time lapses, her husband becomes more ruthless and cruel. To a large extent, Lady Macbeth feels guilty for all the evil her husband is committing. She feels responsible for the crimes as she is the one who put him in that position. From the play, the theme of abuse of office and the effects of corruption foreshadow the fall of Macbeth. Macbeth thinks that “undaunted mettle should compose nothing but males” (Macbeth 1.7.73–74). His wife proves him wrong by using more feminine ways of consolidating power and getting him to do her bidding. Lady Macbeth comes off as more powerful than her husband since she can get him to do her bidding in the play. The notion that women are by nature gentle and kind is effectively challenged through the role of Macbeth, a more combative and cruel woman capable of acting like a man.

The play explores how fragile the male ego is by presenting Lady Macbeth’s ability to bend her husband to the audience. She pushes Macbeth to murder his objections. To manipulate him into going through with the murder, she constantly questions his manhood, “When you durst do it,” she says, “then you were a man” (Macbeth 1.7. 49). Macbeth feels insulted, and the need to prove his wife wrong overrides his rationality. He acts vainly and goes about the murder falling victim to his wife’s plot. While the male gender is portrayed as vital, Shakespeare presents an emotional weakness in seeking validation from women. Lady Macbeth can control her husband without using force, effectively showing women can be more powerful than men if they wield their femininity as a weapon. In the masculine pursuit for glory and validation in his wife’s eyes, Macbeth is willing to commit evil acts to prove a point to his wife. As time lapses, the guilt starts eating away at Macbeth, pushing her to the end of lunacy as the weight of her sins comes crashing her down. Despite acting ruthless and indifferent, we see that guilt catches up with her. The Tragedy of Macbeth is a warning against the corruption that power brings. It also challenges the notion that women make better leaders by showing how manipulative Lady Macbeth used her position of influence to lead her husband into ruins.

In the play, Shakespeare challenges the notion of good leadership; Lady Macbeth circumvents the natural order of leadership and gains too much control over state affairs by manipulating her husband (Ziegler, Georgianna). When it comes to defending the state, Lady Macbeth commits suicide when trouble comes calling while Macbeth fights to the last minute, “Why should I play the Roman fool,” he asks, “and die on mine own sword?”” (Macbeth 5.10.1–2). In the end, we see that Macbeth was a better leader. The play is a caution against bending the natural order of things and defends the status quo. While the play does not argue against the fact that women have valuable input in the society, it does lay emphasis on the fact that choices have consequences.

Works Cited

Greenberg, Yael. “„Lady Macbeth and Rebecca West: The Masculine Woman’s Oedipal Complex “.” PsyArt 21 (2017): 13-19.

Thomas, Catherine E. “sexing Lady Macbeth: gender, power, and visual rhetoric in her graphic afterlives.” The Upstart Crow 31 (2012): 81.

Ziegler, Georgianna. Accommodating the virago: Nineteenth-century representations of Lady Macbeth. Routledge, 2013.


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