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Majority of people have experienced gender stereotypes that are entrenched in today’s society throughout time. The conformed idea of gender norms is expressed by women being portrayed as sensitive and fragile, and men as tough and powerful. Stereotypes similar to these are contradicted throughout William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, written in 1606. Specifically surrounding the continuous view that many of the characters defy stereotypes of masculine and feminine behaviours, and direct societies modern views on these stereotypes. Shakespeare contradicts traditional mascualine stereotypes through the main characters Macbeth, a treacherous yet brave man, and Lady Macbeth, an ambitious and powerful woman.
One of the earliest examples of masculine stereotypes seen in the play, is in Act 1, Scene 7, as Lady Macbeth expresses her outlook “When you durst do it then you were a man,” emasculating Macbeth which eventually leads to his and Lady Macbeth’s hamartia. This provokes a feeling of guilt within Macbeth suggesting that he has had his masculinity stripped from him. According to Lady Macbeth, his initial impression made him a man as she states “you were a man.” However the inclusion of past tense used to describe Macbeth, expresses his loss of manhood as he is hesitant to kill King Duncan which contradicts his appearance. Lady Macbeth persists to mock Macbeth which increases as he is uncertain about committing regicide, peer pressuring him to feel pure guilt. By doing so, the characters contradict both male and female characteristics and presume the gender equivalents of each other. Macbeth is not as tough as a man should be based on stereotypes aforementioned, and is controlled by a woman who has authority over his actions.
Shakespeare interferes with gender stereotypes in the play Macbeth by attributing masculine qualities to female characters by giving them authoritative roles which would not have been expected in the male-dominated culture of Shakespeare’s time. This is evident in Lady Macbeth’s renowned “unsex me here” soliloquy. In this passage, Shakespeare has used elaborate metaphors which refer to Lady Macbeth’s plea to rid her of her feminine façade and obtain a more ruthless nature. Shakespeare has also incorporated dramatic irony as he allows the audience to know how ambitious and greedy Lady Macbeth is feeling; something that the other characters do not know. This can often stimulate strong tension amongst the reader, and can be used to explore the relationships and interactions between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. This speech contains many images and implications that refer not only to Lady Macbeth, but to the whole play, as a prominent theme in Macbeth is the reversal of what is natural.
In Macbeth, Shakspeare has made it clear to his audience that female characters demonstrate more rationality and clear mindedness than their male counterparts. Stereotypes have unfortunately become a huge part of our daily lives, whether it’s how we judge people based on their looks and appearance or personality. However this isn’t something new that we recently started doing, and has been around since Shakespeare’s time and most likely even before. Lady Macbeth tends to internalize society’s stereotypes to a point where she believes that generating sufficient strength and ruthlessness depends on getting rid of her softer and more nurturing qualities and characteristics, if she wants to have any influence on Macbeth’s crime. However, to the majority of people living in the 21st century, this appears to be quite idiotic as most people now appreciate and consider that whether you are tough or nurturing, has nothing to do with your gender. An evident example of this includes the progressive rise of women enlisting in the war, whereas back in Shakespeare’s time, this would not have been the case.
Stereotypes will always be a part of our society and although Shakespeare’s stereotypes may vary from ours, they will always be comparable to those in today’s society. Gender stereotypes have been encountered by a number of people and are established in today’s culture. Throughout Macbeth, Shakespeare has portrayed stereotypes of masculine and feminine characteristics in a variety of different ways, as well as shaping stereotypes of the modern world.
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