The construction of femininity and masculinity in Shakespeare`s Macbeth


Examination Thesis, 2007

79 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Excerpt

Table of Contents

Foreword

The Sources of the Play

Masculinity in Shakespeare`s Macbeth

The Values of Chivalry

The Duties of Chivalrous Knights

King Duncan`s “Natural Order”

Macbeth`s Development from Scotland`s Saviour,

to Scotland`s Criminal King and Bloody Tyrant

Sterility as the Underlying Reason for Macbeth`s Violence

Banquo: Perfect Knight or Villain?

Macduff: The Epitome of Chivalry?

Malcolm: Hope for a Restored “Natural Order”?

Femininity in Shakespeare`s Macbeth

The Elizabethan Housewife

Humble Lady Macduff

Witches as a Social and Political Problem in Shakespeare`s England

Between the Genders: The Witches in Macbeth

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth: Marital Fulfillment in Regicide

Conclusion

Works Cited

“Erklärung über verwendete Hilfsmittel”

Fröhlich

Foreword

The title of this paper is “The Construction of Femininity and Masculinity in Shakespeare`s Macbeth. As this title suggests, I will analyze how Shakespeare construed female and male identity in Macbeth. As in many Shakespearean dramas the play starts with the destruction of order leading to a crisis and ending in the restoration of order at the end of the play (Gelfert 32). The political order, which is destroyed in the play is King Duncan`s order, where a unique set of masculine and feminine values is cherished. Macbeth murders King Duncan in order to usurp his throne. Macbeth`s reign turns Duncan`s order into chaos and moral order cannot return to Scotland until the tyrant ruler Macbeth is defeated by troops who fight for the restoration of Duncan`s order, through the coronation of his son Malcolm. This essay will question the roles Shakespeare gives female and male characters in the destruction and restoration of this order. But I will also raise questions such as:

Which historical concepts does the author use to construe his male and female characters?

Does he construe “typical” roles of men and women?

And what happens when gender boundaries are crossed, if men develop feminine traits and women male?

With special regard to the marriage of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, I will analyze the interaction between the genders. In the course of my analysis, I will use the term “gender”, originating from Anglo-American feminist discourse, meaning ”the social, cultural, and psychological meaning imposed upon biological sexual identity” (Showalter 1-2).

Fröhlich 2

Interpreting femininity and masculinity as “gender” constructions allows a more thorough analysis of the various processes involved in the “making” of men and women. Whilst the term “sex” suggests that children naturally acquire the appropriate masculine or feminine behavioural norms of their society, the term “gender” can also indicate that some people feel discrepancies between their “anatomical sex and experiential sense of gender and sexuality” (Showalter 2). After a short historical introduction about the origins of the play, I will analyze the masculine world of chivalry that the play takes place in. Understanding the world of chivalry, its values and codes is required as most of the male characters are construed as chivalrous knights serving in the corps of King Duncan.

The Sources of the Play

Although the sole authority for the text of this play is the first edition published in the 1623 volume of Shakespeare`s Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies, the play was most likely first performed at the Globe Theatre in 1606 to compliment and entertain King James I and his visitor, the King of Denmark (Brown 9). The script of Macbeth, Shakespeare`s only play set in Scotland, includes many stage directions such as directions for sound and lighting. This could perhaps indicate that the text of the play had been used as a prompt text before it was printed and included in the collection (Brown 10).

James was a fan of Raphael Holinshed`s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1587) (Brown 13). Perhaps for this reason, Shakespeare also wanted to write a dark and gripping play for James I.

Fröhlich 3

The Chronicles were condensed, shaped, and augmented specifically to create an exciting, entertaining and gripping plot. Shakespeare`s Macbeth is a play that deals with regicide and the horrible consequences that regicide has on both the murderer and the country. Although it is the “shortest and bloodiest” Shakespearean drama, it has been immensely successful and has attracted huge audiences from all over the world since its time (Phillips / Douthat 2). Shakespeare wrote this play to compliment the “self-proclaimed anti-militarist” King James I (Wells 117).

James I was a “genuine peacemaker” whose dearest ambition was for a united Europe (Wells 133). Still James was not ignorant to the fact that any military aristocracy needed control (Ibid.). At the beginning of his reign, James I was very popular as his policy of promoting “piety, peace and learning” gave hope after the final years of Elizabeth`s reign, which was marked by “the inbred factionalism of the court and the aggressively militant nationalism fostered by the war party” (Ibid.). According to James I a “wise ruler” should strive for peace and “justice tempered by mercy” (as he emphasizes in Basilicon Doron) (Wells 134). But how exactly did Shakespeare alter his original sources? According to Mabillard, Shakespeare`s alterations of his sources served three purposes: “the dramatic purpose of creating a more exciting story than is found in the sources; the thematic purpose of creating a more complex characterization of Macbeth; and the political purpose of catering to the beliefs of the reigning monarch, King James I” (Mabillard 1).

In order to create a “direct” plot Shakespeare reduced Duncan`s wars to only one and also ignored Macbeth`s “ten years of prudent rule” and gave Macduff “less prominence until after the slaughter” of his family (Brown 13). He concentrated on the topic of regicide and its consequences (Ibid.).

Fröhlich 4

Furthermore, he “carefully modified” the characters and ignored Macbeth`s “harsh temperament before aiming at the crown” in the Chronicles (Ibid).

In the Chronicles “the naming of Malcolm as Duncan`s heir was a just ground for Macbeth`s hostility”; Shakespeare also dropped this and presented King Duncan as a most saintly King (Ibid.). Shakespeare also changed the nature of the crime “from open political assassination carried out with the support of Banquo and others” to “murder in Macbeth`s own castle”, which Macbeth carries out with his wife (Ibid).

Shakespeare`s own inventions were “Macbeth`s `horrible imaginings´ in his very first scene after hearing the witches` prophecies, his helplessness immediately following the crime, the long talk with the murderers of Banquo, the appearances of Banquo`s ghost, the subsequent scenes between Macbeth and his wife, Lady Macbeth`s sleepwalking and her reported suicide” (Brown 14). Shakespeare accepts the political background and adds a supernatural one (Brown 15). Shakespeare knew that King James I believed in witchcraft. He reshaped Holinshed`s “nymphs” who were “unequivocally female” and “attractive” and turned them into androgynous forces of evil (Rackin 132). To conclude, Shakespeare “contrived from the Chronicles a historical, political, spiritual, sexual and mental tragedy (Brown 15).

Its topic is the “sacrilegious nature of regicide” and its fatal consequences, a topic Shakespeare chose to compliment King James I (Wells 136).

Fröhlich 5

Masculinity in Shakespeare`s Macbeth

Shakespeare lived in a time that had seen chivalry in decline (Wells 12). During the Renaissance in England chivalry was an “antiquated system” bearing little resemblance to contemporary social and military reality (Wells 13). Although horsed knights with helmets, swords, lances and breastplates had already been replaced with troops of soldiers with guns and pistols, the image of the chivalrous knight was by far not out of society`s mind and contemporary fashion (Smith 44). It was immensely popular among noblemen and gentlemen in Renaissance England to have their portraits painted in the style of chivalry (Ibid.). This may be the reason why Shakespeare decided to place another tragedy in “a ceremonial feudal world”, in which the chivalrous knight epitomizes the ideal of manliness (Smith 45).

Macbeth is not the first Shakespearean play set in the world of chivalry. But why did Shakespeare create another play, in which the chivalrous knight is the masculine ideal? Firstly, Shakespeare was fascinated by the world of chivalry and in favour of the humanist ideas of chivalry (Meron 5). Secondly, staging a play in a historical setting gave Shakespeare “a greater literary freedom” to express critical ideas (Ibid).

In Macbeth masculinity equals chivalry. An ideal knight showed more than “loyalty” to those he served. He also showed “solidarity” to his kinsmen and “orthodoxy” in the conduct of his duties (Long 54).

In the following section, I will explain the values of chivalry more thoroughly and how they were translated into customs of warfare.

Fröhlich 6

The Values of Chivalry

In the Middle Ages, chivalry was an “ideal” of masculinity rather than an institution (Schofield 3). Chivalric values became the new ideal of masculinity in medieval England (Wells 11). The chivalric premise and rites were based on “justice, loyalty, courage, honour and mercy” (Meron 5). Of all theses principles, honour was considered the most important one. The honour code is the most enduring legacies of chivalry and bound knights to act honourably in civil society and warfare (Wells 11).

Justice, loyalty, courage, honour and mercy shaped the customs of warfare and in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance and influence today`s laws and practices of warfare (Meron 3-4). These chivalric virtues were translated into a behavioural code which was to be applied both in civil society and on the battlefield by “knights, nobility and the entire warring class” (Meron 5).

Any chivalrous knight had to swear “to renounce the pursuit of material gain, to do nobly for the mere love of nobleness, to be generous of his goods, to be courteous to the vanquished, to redress wrongs, to draw his sword in no quarrel but a just one, to keep his word, to respect oaths, and above all, to protect the helpless and to serve women” (Schofish 5). Chivalry was a normative ideal, which applied to knights and nobles regardless of nationality, but did not protect commoners, peasants and non-Christians (Meron 6). Some of the rules of chivalry were manifested by royal ordinances, for example Henry V`s ordinances of 1419, which explicitly made illegal “assault, robbery, and capture” of people belonging to the Church as well as the rape of women (Meron 5).

Fröhlich 7

Chivalrous knights had the “duty to grand quarter on the battlefield in exchange for ransom, treat prisoners humanely and protect women, children and other non-combatants” (Ibid.). Warring men had to conform to chivalric rules. The international order of chivalry established courts to re-enforce the principles of chivalry and any warrior could report breaches on these rules committed by enemies (Meron 6).

The Duties of Chivalrous Knights

In the world of chivalry “physical courage and military prowess” were considered the “guarantors of justice and honour” (Wells 11). As was mentioned, the most important duty for any chivalrous knight was to conduct humanitarian and responsible behaviour in both peace and war in order to seek honour and to avoid shame (Meron 108). He had to “defend the faith against unbelievers, defend the temporal lord and protect the weak, women, widows and orphans. Furthermore, he was compelled to pursue robbers and malefactors, uphold justice and train to acquire the virtues necessary to perform these duties: “wisdom, charity, loyalty and courage” (Meron 108). “Pride, false-swearing, idleness, lechery and treason” were to be avoided (Meron 109). On the battlefield chivalrous knights had to accept and apply certain standards. Both belligerents were (ideally) granted an equal position in their battlefield at an arranged time and place (Meron 109). Proving loyalty meant “fidelity to one`s lord and the Church” as well as to the order of chivalry and its customs (Ibid).

The notion of justice did not allow knights to fight in unjust war as only the participation in just war was supposed to gain fame (Meron 112). Just war was considered as a means to right wrongs (Ibid.).

Fröhlich 8

Civilized manners in warfare included the duty to respect the bodies of the dead and to grant them an honourable burial and to search for the missing (Meron 115). As the duties of chivalrous knights were plenty, several lists were written down during the Middle Ages to remind the knights of their duties and to give them advice in crucial situations. One of these lists is contained in the book Chivaly by French historian Léon Gautier and reads:

Thou shalt believe all the Church teaches, and shall observe all its directions.

Thou shalt defend the Church.

Thou shalt respect all the weak, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them.

Thou shalt love the country in which thou wast born.

Thou shalt not recoil before thine enemy.

Thou shalt make war against the infidel without cessation, and without mercy.

Thou shalt never lie, and shall remain faithful to thy pledged word.

Thou shalt be generous, give largess to everyone.

Thou shalt be everywhere and always the companion of the right and the good against injustice and evil. (www.en.wikipedia.org.../Chivalry...)

Chivalric codes set high standards and expectations. A chivalrous knight had to be as noble-minded as a priest and as strong and courageous as a hero. Before describing the depiction of Macbeth, Banquo, Macduff, and Malcolm as chivalrous knights, I will concentrate on King Duncan`s “natural order” as the destruction of his life and thus reign is the starting point of the tragedy.

King Duncan`s “Natural Order”

King Duncan is a benevolent King who represents a “moral and political order rooted in a natural order established by God” (Blits 1). God was supposed to see everything and know everyone`s secrets and secret thoughts, to protect the innocent and punish the guilty (Ibid). Duncan`s personality combines both male and female traits.

Fröhlich 9

The audience sees his male traits through his appreciation of valour in warfare. He compliments and honours to the bleeding Sergeant who fought to free his son from his capture:

So well thy words become thee, as thy wounds:

They smack of honour both.

(1.2.44-5)

On the other hand, his female traits are revealed through his desire of peace and harmony. He speaks in metaphors of nurturing, hope and fecundity, for instance, when he praises Banquo`s bravery in the fight against Norway with the words:

[...] Noble Banquo,
That hast no less deserv`d, nor must be known
No less to have done so, let me infold thee,
And hold thee to my heart.

(1.4.29-32)

Duncan symbolizes “legitimate authority, gentle fathering, maternal nurturing, social accord and childlike trust” (Stockholder 100). He is fond of his servants and delights in their company. His love for his knights extends onto families and can almost be seen as “motherly” at the banquet, where he greats Lady Macbeth warmly as “fair and noble hostess” (1.6.23) and says:

Give me your hand;
Conduct me to mine host: we love him highly,
And shall continue our graces towards him.
By your leave, hostess.

(1.6.28-31)

Never knowing that Lady Macbeth had previously conjured up murderous spirits so she could kill him, he seems to delight in her company. Although he has been deceived before, he loves and trust his knights.

Fröhlich 10

Referring to the treacherous Thane of Cawdor, Duncan even comments on his inability to judge people correctly:

There`s no art

To find the mind`s construction in the face:

He was a gentleman on whom I built

An absolute trust.

(1.4.11-13)

However, at no point in the play does Duncan try to find a way to check the loyalty of his knights. His “naive faith in the appearance of loyalty in his followers” is a “mistaken faith”, which will make Duncan transfer both Cawdor`s title and his “absolute” trust to Macbeth (Hays 103-4). He is “simply fooled by false appearance” (Jorgensen, Sensational Art 46).

In Rogers`s interpretation, Duncan represents “the successful amalgamation of the masculine and feminine gender principles” (Rogers 4). Rogers believes that it is Duncan`s feminine qualities which eventually kill him. She argues that the society described in Macbeth is a strictly patriarchal one in which “male supremacy is being protected by brute force” (Ibid.). She claims that in order to survive in this world, characters have to rid themselves off “any connection to the feminine sphere” as exemplified by Macduff who was not “of a woman born” (Rogers 3). Although I agree with Rogers that King Duncan possesses both masculine and feminine qualities and that the world of Macbeth is a strictly patriarchal one, I would not say that it is Duncan`s feminine values which eventually kill him. King Duncan is a benevolent King who naturally favours peace and harmony over war and terror. But was it really Duncan`s feminine values that made him too blind to see any evil in his county and among his servants?

Fröhlich 11

The fact that it is Macduff who can put an end to Macbeth`s tyranny because he was not of “of woman born” (4.1.80) is crucial. But Macduff did not intentionally cut this “connection to the feminine sphere”. It is not true that Macduff negates his own feminine qualities. In the course of the play, he will reveal innate feminine qualities. In my opinion, it is not exclusively King Duncan`s feminine qualities that will cost his life, but a tendency to be too uncritical towards his servant`s true ambitions combined with a too close relationship to them. Duncan does not develop an “appropriate” distance to his knights. By treating his servants like his sons, he might increase some knight`s readiness to defend Scotland, but it, on the other hand, increases certain unrealistic hopes and expectations among others, especially Macbeth. Although he returns as the “hero” of the battle against Macdonwald, Duncan`s son Malcolm, successor to the throne, is crowned the new King of Scotland. The fact that Malcolm lacks maturity and so far has not proved any male qualities increases Macbeth`s envy towards the legitimate heir of the crown.

I think that Shakespeare deliberately portrays Duncan as a naïve and trusting character as a strong contrast to the tyrannical ruler Macbeth, “idealizing Duncan and demonizing Macbeth” (Hays 104). Thus King Duncan is the embodiment of both a beloved King and father figure as well the embodiment of innocence and victimhood. His female qualities are undeniable. His caring female qualities perhaps raise the question to the audience of whether he has a spouse, and if so where is she? Again it is Macduff who informs the audience about her life and death:

... the Queen ...

Oft`ner upon her knees than on her feet,

Died every day she liv`d.

(4.3.109-111)

Fröhlich 12

The audience gets the impression that she must have been a pious wife who was deeply religious. Maybe Duncan possesses some of her gentle qualities. Duncan`s loyal subjects regard their king`s body to be “The Lord`s anointed Temple” (2.3.67) and that any attack upon him would be a sacrilege. Murdering him means “striking at the elements of life itself: it means murdering sleep, “Chief nourisher at life`s feast” (2.2.38)” (Long 49). The death of this gentle and ideal king means the loss of “natural order” based on “love, trust, hospitality, gentleness, procreation and the divine” (Blits 51).

Macbeth`s Development from Scotland`s Saviour, to Scotland`s Criminal King and Bloody Tyrant

In this play about the “loss and recovery of right rule”, Macbeth is the main-protagonist, who at the beginning is described as Scotland`s saviour (Hays 100). But at no point in the play is Macbeth depicted as a true chivalrous knight. He may be “a knight of surpassing prowess in battle”, but his conduct is “less than chivalrous” and “his character [is] less than morally or religiously correct” (Hays 107). Being a warrior in the fight against Norway, he literally slays his enemies without remorse. In Act I, Scene II a wounded Sergeant reports King Duncan how Macbeth defended Scotland and won the fight against the Norwegian rebel Macdonwald. The description of this deed reveals that Macbeth delights in executing his enemies:

For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name),
Disdaining Fortune, with his brandish`d steel,
Which smok`d with bloody execution,
Like Valour`s minion, carv`d out his passage,
Till he fac`d the slave;
Which ne`er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
Till he unseam`d him from the nave to th`chops,
And fix`d his head upon our battlements. (1.2.16-23)

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This scene describes Macbeth as a cruel and remorseless warrior whose fighting strategy reminds one of the way professional butchers produce “cutlets or pieces of meat” (Foakes 149). Indeed, Macbeth kills Macdonwald with unnecessary brutality, “he unseam`d him from nave to th`chops” (1.2.22-3), meaning that Macbeth cuts open the entire torso of his enemy and thus presents himself as an enormously brutal warrior without scruples. His ferocity is “unrestrained by the customs and methods of chivalric combat” (Hays 107). In his confrontation with the rebel Macdonwald, he “omits the courtesies of chivalric combat between knights”; he “ne`er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him” (1.2.21), suggesting “both murder and mutilation” rather than depicting Macbeth as an honourable chivalrous knight (Hays 108). From the beginning, Macbeth proves military ability but also moral ambiguity (Ibid.). However, his brutality as a warrior is translated as bravery by his kinsmen and rewarded by the Scottish King who makes him Thane of Cawdor as was predicted by the witches (in Act one, scene three).

The mere fact that Macbeth rises in the Scottish society because of his omnipresent reputation as a brave soldier, indicates that this society is marked by warship and that masculinity is measured by the number of enemies a man is able to kill. Showing unrestrained brutality on the battlefield, or creating “strange images of death” (1.3.97), as Ross puts it, is rewarded rather than criticized by Macbeth`s kinsmen. Thus Ross` reference to Macbeth as “Bellona`s bridegroom” (1.2.55), the newly wedded husband to the Roman goddess of war, is a compliment, not a criticism (Foakes 149).

King Duncan acknowledges Macbeth`s valour and gives him the title of Thane of Cawdor almost immediately after the witches` prophecy that he will be “Thane of Cawdor ... and King hereafter” (1.3.49-50).

Fröhlich 14

Ironically, Macbeth`s predecessor was executed for treason as he had helped the military forces of Norway during the battle. Now dark thoughts of regicide haunt Macbeth. He assumes that this crime is the prerequisite for becoming King of Scotland himself, the mere thought of this deed gives him a “horrid image” (1.3.135), which makes him feel uncomfortable and leads him to the conclusion:

If Chance will have me King, why, Chance
may crown me,
Without my stir.

(1.3.142-4)

Still this idea will not leave Macbeth alone. Macbeth is confused about his inner drive to murder Duncan and does not entirely understand this impulse (Foakes 151). Being “the product of a culture of violence” he has proved his outstanding bravery in the fight against Norway, but killing Duncan is something different (Foakes 149). It is treason to kill one`s kinsman and a guest. Killing Duncan means crossing a line he has never crossed before. Now Macbeth is suffering from his idea to kill Duncan in order to gain the crown himself. Macbeth`s mental turmoil at the thought of killing King Duncan and his subsequent conclusion to become the new King of Scotland by “chance” and “without his stir” indicate that it takes Lady Macbeth`s initiation to persuade him to commit regicide.

I will explain how Lady Macbeth influences her husband to commit regicide in the section “Macbeth and Lady Macbeth: Marital Fulfillment in Regicide”. After Macbeth`s coronation he “alternates between a “manly readiness” (2.3.133) to rid himself of all those who stand in his way and a condition in which a “torture of the mind” (3.2.21) unmans him” (Foakes 152).

Fröhlich 15

Despite being the new King of Scotland, Macbeth is unable to enjoy his newly achieved status. Instead he develops a paranoia-like psychological condition, which makes him suspicious towards his kinsmen (Ibid.). He fears that he has revealed his guilt to the entire court and therefore feels the urge to kill more and more of his kinsmen.

He has his agents kill Banquo as his sons were prophesied to become the future Kings of Scotland. Lady Macduff and her children are also slaughtered. In order to protect his positions as King, Macbeth is forced to fight the English troops who come to break his tyranny (Foakes 153). Returning to battlefield against the English forces gives him new energy. Before this last battle he had lost his ability to feel emotion. He is neither able to feels sympathy for his wife who committed suicide nor for his victims. But the prospect of fighting against the English invading troops, who are lead by Duncan`s son Malcolm, gives him new strength to protect not only his power but also his honour and dignity. He obviously delights in renewing the cycle of violence for he fights strongly against his enemies although his life has become “a walking shadow” (5.5.24). During this last battle “a heroic conception of manliness centered on courage... becomes valued again” (Foakes 154). Ironically, young Siward is praised for dying “like a man” in confronting Macbeth (Foakes 153). Macbeth`s self-conception as a man is deeply rooted in his ability to fight against his enemies, a quality which marks masculinity in a war-ridden society.

I would like to conclude that masculine violence is an underlying theme in the tragedy Macbeth. Violence epitomizes the concept of masculinity in Macbeth`s world. It is socially accepted within the realm of warfare. Violence is expected to be shown by men, especially to defend their King and family. Macbeth became a “war hero” for showing “loyalty, valour and service kinship” to Duncan (Foakes 155).

Fröhlich 16

Indeed, he proved to be a strong and successful warrior whose brutality was part of his glory. He was feared by his enemies and admired by his kinsmen. He delighted in killing his enemies and showed no remorse or sympathy for his victims. In the beginning of the play, his remorselessness was limited to warfare. But in his quest for power, his remorselessness was numbed. Although he was longing for the crown, he was not able to actually be a real King. Macbeth was an able soldier in the Scottish troops whose valour made him legendary among his kinsmen, but he proved unable to keep his manly composure and sanity. Displaying violence once gave Macbeth strength and established his glory among his kinsmen as long as he fought to protect his county. It is upon his reflection of the bloody murder of Duncan that he began to lose his sanity. This regicide killed “the root of this own life as isolation and the loss of his mental health [was] the price he [had] to pay for it” (Eagleton 7). Madness weakened his mind and turned him into a person people both fear and pity. The murder of the King was triggered by his own ambition and re-enforced by the confusing prophecy of the three witches as well as by his wife`s deadly ambition. Macbeth ended as a “shrinking, superstitious, bragging, hysterical wrench at Dunsinane who [could not] look his enemies in the face” (Dusinberre 285).

I think there is another contributing factor as Macbeth`s violence increases so drastically in the course of the play, and that is that of his sterility.

Sterility as the Underlying Reason for Macbeth`s Violence

In his dissertation about the relationships between parents and children in various Shakespearean dramas, Götz Ahrendt describes Macbeth as a “hero” whose kingdom becomes worthless as he is a “childless father” (250).

Fröhlich 17

Ahrendt claims that Macbeth gradually comes to the realization that his achievements are worthless unless he has sons to inherit his kingdom (Ibid.). Macbeth considers his crown as a reward for his endevours, but his achievements are pointless unless he has a son to inherit his throne (250). To his mind, having no children is a shame, because a kingdom is worthless without potential heirs. In his soliloquy in Act three, Scene one, he expresses his bitterness about his childlessness:

Upon my head they plac`d a fruitless crown,
And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,
Thence to be wrench`d with an unlineal hand,
No son of mine succeeding. If`t be so,
For Banquo`s issue have I fil`d my mind;
For them the gracious Duncan have I murther`d;
Put rancours in the vessel of my peace,
Only for them; and mine eternal jewel
Given to the common Enemy of man,
To make them kings, the seed of Banquo kings!
Rather than so, come, fate, into the list,
And champion me to th` utterance!

(3.1.60-71)

It is indeed ironic that Macbeth expresses despair about not fathering a son as this has not been changed by any events during the play. He is desperate because Banquo`s sons will inherit a crown he had to fight and murder for. Instead of expressing remorse for murdering Duncan, he feels sorry for himself.

He first blames the three witches for placing “a fruitless crown” upon his head, then the devil (“the common Enemy of man”) and finally “Faith” itself, which he decides to challenge (Ahrendt 250). In challenging “Fate”, it is clear that he will continue to murder to hold on to his power. His determination seems rather short-sighted as although he might succeed in killing Banquo`s children, he still would not have sons of his own to pass the crown on to.

[...]

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Details

Title
The construction of femininity and masculinity in Shakespeare`s Macbeth
College
University of Potsdam  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Grade
2,0
Author
Year
2007
Pages
79
Catalog Number
V87513
ISBN (eBook)
9783638057066
ISBN (Book)
9783638949170
File size
663 KB
Language
English
Notes
Schriftliche Hausarbeit im Rahmen der Ersten Staatsprüfung für das Lehramt an Gymnasien
Tags
Shakespeare`s, Macbeth
Quote paper
Vinzent Fröhlich (Author), 2007, The construction of femininity and masculinity in Shakespeare`s Macbeth, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/87513

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