Manhood and Challenge of Being a Man: Analysis of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

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I’m a man, Shakespeare said so Alexander Sheffield on outdated ideas of masculinity that we are taught wrong from the start.

School, the so-called learning part of our lives, well why are we still being exposed to and taught wrong ideas of important concepts? In 1980, 91% of united state school were teaching Shakespeare and today they are continuing to teach it, but why? We are being tainted by these outdated, false ideas!

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There is no denying that Shakespeare’s plays are theatrical masterpieces, but they shouldn’t be seen as an example for how men should act. It’s not just Shakespeare either, older poems that are taught portray the same out-dated representations of what it is to ‘be a man,’ a phrase we hear too often, whether it be from our friends, superiors or relatives. We, men must act accordingly, this goes both ways too. It’s just men who exercise “you throw like a girl,” I don’t know one person who hasn’t heard that before, stuff like that would leave the same ideas in our youths mind that to be a man you must do this or that leaving such high expectations on men and creating a false definition and belief in their mind. The pressure that this bestows on male youth is massive not only that but it causes a male superiority mind-set that is deteriorating our generations reputation, because it’s what the males in schools are taught, day in and day out. “…They will always fall back to these characteristics being taught in schools and other areas…”

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth the protagonist is challenged by being “a man” when he’s met with the thought that he could become thane of Cordor and near after King of Scotland. He is pressured by his wife to break his own meaning of honesty to live up to the expectations of what Shakespeare believed men were to possess to “be men.” When Macbeth shares his fears about not wanting to murder the current king he is belittled by Lady Macbeth and has his manhood questioned because of his fears and emotions. Saying that his fear is “not real” and that he resembles “a woman’s story at a winter’s fire, authorised by her grandma.” This not only states that to be a man you shouldn’t share and show emotions but it also shames Macbeth for his emotions and fears, and this is taught to our youth all the time in schools (act 3 scene 4 line 58-69).

Our youth are not just taught through the use of Shakespeare but also through poems that exercise male superiority over females. The dated poem My Last Duchess utilises possessive albeit aggressive as well as accepting defeated language by the Duke about his wife the Duchess, with her death later alluded to. This poem is the opposite of masculine education, displaying a husband as being uninvolved and unable to make her happy, until the moment that he lays down an iron fist being demanding and hereby drawing her back into line, this aggression should not be encouraged in modern society as it is no longer acceptable like it was during the poem’s creation. Schools utilising this poem as education on appropriate masculine behaviour and attitudes is the complete opposite of acceptable. Lines like “this sort of trifling, even had you the skill, in speech, which I have not, to make your will,” and “Sir, ‘twas not her husband’s presence only called that spot,” demonstrate how a husband must exercise his masculinity by doing only what he is capable and accepting that his wife’s happiness is not caused through his actions.

Education in this form is detrimental to the development of youth’s individual perceptions of masculinity. Males, young men should not and cannot grow up and form healthy relationships believing that this is what a husband should act like. My Last Duchess interprets a marriage to feature gifts given and male eyes to be blind to his wife’s promiscuity, and that when his patience is nigh it is acceptable for a man to exercise his right of ownership. Furthermore, My Last Duchess is uncovered to be a tale told to a servant of a future ‘conquest’ to the Duke. If young males are growing up believing that women are to be removed and replaced when seen fit then it is no wonder that young men are in the dark as to how to treat women. Texts from the dark ages that display masculinity in this manner are going to give young, modern men a dark and twisted education on masculinity.

At the core, foundational, definition of masculinity lies the treatment of oneself and others and poetry and play’s like Macbeth demonstrate behaviours that value meekness, aggression and acceptance of pressuring or cheating behaviours. Learning from these dated and delusional sources during school is harmful to youth. Youth are already struggling to grow up and define themselves that giving them statements like “be a real man” only label and create an inescapable box with behaviours like aggression deemed appropriate for masculinity expression. An article by Pankaj Mishra (2018) highlights how the portrayal of masculinity across the world is damaging stating that “to be a ‘mature’ man was to adjust oneself to society and fulfil one’s responsibility as breadwinner, father and solider.” Comments like this at a crucial developmental stage like high school is having negative effects on male self-esteem and behavioural decisions with male teens electing to hide their vulnerabilities and true feelings out of fear of not being manly (Lamont, 2019)

After a quick interview with Phoenix Senhenn (2020 Beaudesert state high school leader), asking whether he thought it was too late for today’s youth he replied with, “definitely, people can always change but I feel they will always fall back to these characteristics being taught in school and in other areas.” After already confirming that the “representations of this toxic masculinity… is subconsciously building up in the minds of young males and is being unleashed when they are forced to act out.” It’s clear that even some young adults can see what the school system is doing to the youth of today. After asking what his opinion on how men treat others an females he was quick to reply stating that he was “ashamed” with how they act stating that there are a portion of males that see through the out-dated representation but continues to talk about how disgusted he is with their “idiocy.”

I’m not saying that they should be forgotten all together but I am saying that they shouldn’t be in the main syllabus for English worldwide, and if they are it needs to be specified and spoken about in a negative light otherwise the cycle will never be broken. Together we need to destroy false ideas of what it is to be a “man”, let’s take the first step today and save the next generation.


Many texts that are taught in schools today show out-dated definitions and representations of what it means to “be a man” and it shows.

  1. Lamont, T. (2019). ‘A lot of us are in the dark’: what teenage boys really think about being a man. The Guardian, retrieved on the 13/11/2019 from:
  2. Mishra, P. (2018). The crisis in modern masculinity. The Guardian, retrieved on the 13/11/2019 from:
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Manhood and Challenge of Being a Man: Analysis of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. (2022, July 14). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 20, 2024, from
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