The controversial character of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth

Manly heroine or (stereotypical) mastered female?

Essay, 2006

8 Pages, Grade: 1,3


In Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth (1606), the plot’s fatale process is actuated due to some disastrous factors working hand in hand: Obviously, the witches and their mysterious prophecy play an initializing role, but only the particular disposition of the protagonist and – what is maybe even more important – the character sketch of his wife induce the tapering of the story line. This essay is to concentrate on the latter part of the portentous couple, Lady Macbeth. Its focus of analysis is the matter of femaleness: Up to what extent does the central woman character leave the specific ‘female realm’ of passiveness, debility and subjection? Is she to be considered a revolutionary, emancipated woman? Or do we find more points in her behaviour supporting that all her attempts to step out of the male domination must fail?

When doing some research on Shakespeare’s tragedy a first finding might be that a number of interpretations point out the affinity of Lady Macbeth’s characteristic disposition to a traditionally male sphere of existence, which, in the historic timeframe of the drama, is socially neither expected nor desired.

‘Unwomanly evidence’ is for instance found in the decisiveness and determination of her mental spirit, which somehow can be interpreted as an impulsive tragic movement. Indeed, in the beginning, Macbeth’s wife is supposed to be the dominating part of the couple; her husband even seems to ‘fear’ his spouse more than the battlefield.[1] And her steady attempt to influence her husband, or rather to manipulatively make him do what she considers advantageous[2] shows that she is striving for mastery in their partnership – and, at the beginning, she, the masculinized[3] woman, also maintains the controlling position. Passionately, she wants to “pour [her] spirits in [his] ear” – this ambition suggests that she yearns for power – and to a certain extent also has it.

When Lady Macbeth removes the daggers from the King’s chamber herself in a very level-headed way, Tina Curry sees her male traits very clearly:

Lady Macbeth, in this instance, has transcended the gender roles of the time period in order to establish herself as equal to, if not superior to, her male counterparts. She has become the female version of a man seeking greatness. […] Shakespeare has created a violent, yet admirable [!] female role model through the portrayal of Lady Macbeth.[4]

Whether Lady Macbeth should really be regarded as an admirable role model, however is very doubtful, since many of her ambitious thoughts and attitudes make her appear so very cruel that sympathy can hardly be maintained. She even speaks of her willingness to kill her own child provided that this helps to make her unscrupulous:


[1] Traub (1995), 132: “[…] fear of women’s sexual power dominates […] Macbeth (1606).” à Men are victimized by the sexual power wielded by commanding and evil women.

[2] Advantageous for whom is another question: Mostly, the scholarly essays construe Lady Macbeth’s acting as a seizing of the initiative for him in the first place, and not for herself (Schuch (2003), 204). This would underline her traditional devoted role of a caring wife, subordinated to the man at her side.

[3] This expression is established by Jeanne Addison Roberts: Roberts (1991), 96.

[4] Curry (2005.

Excerpt out of 8 pages


The controversial character of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth
Manly heroine or (stereotypical) mastered female?
University of Siegen  (FB 3: Literatur-, Sprach- und Medienwissenschaften)
A Survey of English Literature 1500-1750
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
402 KB
Shakespeare’s, Lady, Macbeth, Survey, English, Literature
Quote paper
Sabine Buchholz (Author), 2006, The controversial character of Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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