Macbeth By William Shakespeare: The Role Of Women In A Patriarchal Society

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The Elizabethan Era was a time where theatre flourished and playwrights like William Shakespeare broke free of England’s past style of plays and theatre. After Queen Elizabeth passed away, Macbeth was Shakespeare’s next play and he had to be mindful of how females were portrayed now that he had a patriarchal leader. The human experience is explored through Shakespeare’s timeless drama Macbeth as the fundamental issues of human existence whether it is individual, physical, psychological, or intellectual. The famous play explores the human experience through the role of women and morality and examines a variety of characters that contribute to the plot and give different perspectives of human experience.

Shakespeare's 17th-century play, Macbeth, explores the human experience through the role of women in a patriarchal society, where the women are seen as weak, the victims of sexual innuendo, and appear as the property of men. Shakespeare challenges the stereotypical view of women through Lady Macbeth and the three witches. When the witches are introduced at the beginning of the play their bad intentions are revealed as they use trickery to manipulate. When Macbeth is introduced to the witches it begins with them chanting the three prophecies “All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Glamis!”, “All hail, Macbeth! Hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!” and “All hail, Macbeth, that shalt be king hereafter!”. The witches play upon Macbeth’s ambition like a puppeteer using the prediction of future events to set Macbeth’s plot in motion. Shakespeare makes the readers question whether the witches dictate Macbeth’s fate or if he was responsible for his own actions. Lady Macbeth is another example of Shakespeare defying the traditional gender stereotypes as she is the complete opposite of Lady Macduff who represents the positive traits of females and is a perfect example of the nurturing role women were expected to have. Lady Macbeth’s desire to see Macbeth take the throne begins to dictate her decisions, her behavior demonstrating how women can be just as cruel and ambitious as men. Her manipulative ways are shown when she reveals her plan for killing the king, declaring to Macbeth, “The unguarded Duncan? What not upon His spongy officers, who shall bear the guilt of our great quell?” as she schemes to pin the murder on the King’s palace guards. Lady Macbeth takes control of Duncan’s murder telling Macbeth “screw your courage to the sticking place, and we’ll not fail” proving she is the dominant partner in their relationship, a change from the typical gender and social rules. After Duncan is killed Lady Macbeth takes control and warns Macbeth he must not think so seriously about the deed believing “it will make us mad”. Lady Macbeth defies the constraints society at that time had on women showing us the consequences that greed for power can have.

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Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth is a tragedy about the consequences of lust for power, which explores the concept of morality. Morality is the belief that some behavior is right and acceptable and that other behavior is wrong. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth both struggle with their morals throughout the play. Macbeth realizes he has made a mistake after he kills Duncan, telling Lady Macbeth “I’ll go no more, I’m afraid to think of what I have done, look don’t again I dare not”. This confession reveals Macbeth regrets his decision, suggesting that his morals were not completely gone. However Macbeth believes it is too late to make amends later declaring “I am blood stepped in so far, that, should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as going o’er” revealing how he believes he has already crossed the line committing murder and there's no going back. The further Macbeth travels from his morals the more guilt he begins to experience. After Macbeth sends assassins to kill Banquo he is haunted by Banquo’s ghost. Macbeth begins to speak to Banquo’s ghost, yelling “Avaunt! And quit my sights! Let the earth hide thee! Thy bones are marrowless, thy blood is cold”, this shocks the guest at the feast and builds suspicion as Lady Macbeth tries to play it off as an illness. The fact that Macbeth is hallucinating reveals how overwhelmed with the guilt he is which is leading to him beginning to lose his mind. The blood imagery and hallucinations are very important in the play as it symbolizes the guilt Lady Macbeth and Macbeth feel. The blood imagery constantly haunts them, reminding them of their immoral actions and reveals the stain that permanently sits upon their conscience. All the guilt Lady Macbeth feels over the crimes she committed is revealed when she sleepwalks and confesses everything in an attempt to wash the blood from her hands yelling “Out damn’d spot! Out, I say!” while in a state of unconsciousness. She realizes her mistakes and while she made herself out to look powerful and fearless, deep down she is afraid. Lady Macbeth and Macbeth committed the crimes thinking it would make them happy but it only left them with remorse demonstrating the power that morals can have on someone’s conscience. They acted without thinking what the consequences would be and they ironically ended up going mad from guilt, something Lady Macbeth had once warned Macbeth would happen.

Human experience was explored through the characters of Macbeth as they went through the numerous emotions that make us human. Shakespeare reveals a world of a patriarchal society that continues to engage readers as his writing can directly apply to our society, making us question how much we have really changed. Greed and lust for power often stop someone from being self-reflective causing them to stray from their own moral values and society's ethical standards. This is the case for Macbeth and Lady Macbeth who let their greed dismiss their moral compass and end up paying the ultimate price with their life.

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Macbeth By William Shakespeare: The Role Of Women In A Patriarchal Society. (2021, August 11). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
“Macbeth By William Shakespeare: The Role Of Women In A Patriarchal Society.” Edubirdie, 11 Aug. 2021,
Macbeth By William Shakespeare: The Role Of Women In A Patriarchal Society. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 26 May 2024].
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