Toxic Masculinity In Macbeth And My Last Duchess

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‘Macbeth’ written by William Shakespeare and ‘My last duchess’ written by Robert Browning are two of the most common examples linked to toxic masculinity. In today’s car driven and busy city world, toxic masculinity can often go unseen. However, it is present more commonly than many think within men and women.Shakespeare’s representation of masculinity within his work during the Elizabethan era takes many different forms, past and present. The 17th century play ‘Macbeth’ and in the 1842 poem ‘My last duchess’ (Robert Browning) toxic masculinity is the most commonly evident representation in men and women. Has it changed since the 17th century to now in the 21st century?

TOXIC Masculinity is REAL

Could the lack of conversation about the topic be the reason behind the insufficient understanding and general knowledge of toxic masculinity? Toxic masculinity is a specified representation of traditional masculinity stereotypes, those include; decisiveness, easily influences and manipulates others, little to no sensitivity to other’s feelings and sometimes cruel.

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Members of society that tend to think stereotypically of the subject have opinions which prove those people to be naïve, stubborn and single opinionated. However, our modern day opinions should sound something more like this if we are really trying to tackle the issue of toxic masculinity. “You’re not less of a man for being a stay-at-home dad, or for crying over a movie, or even for just sitting next to another man comfortably in a movie theatre.” (Rouner, 2017).

Do not be mistaken that only stereotypical men can portray these attributes. Women also are able to portray said attributes, although it goes unnoticed as if it were all the little things in life, we take for granted. We often overlook the concept in women because it is non-stereotypical.

The majority of society tends not to notice anything non-stereotypical because they simply do not wish to see or have anything to do with change or abnormality.

Toxic masculinity can be a mentally dangerous concept when used to manipulate and control other’s actions, beliefs and way of life. Whether it was in the early 17th century in the times of ‘Macbeth’, the mid-19th century times of ‘My Last Duchess’ or in the current 21st world we live in today.

A perfect example of the presence of toxic masculinity is demonstrated from William Shakespeare’s female lead character in the play Macbeth. Lady Macbeth, wife to the formidable Macbeth, Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor and future King of Scotland. Lady Macbeth portrays key attributes and qualities to be considered as toxically masculine. Attributes such as influencing her husband’s actions and contradicting his masculinity.

When Lady Macbeth hear the news from her husband that he is to be Thane of Cawdor and is to be the future King, ambition starts to build inside of her, more so than Macbeth. This ambition consumes her, leading to her to consider assassinating Duncan herself if Lady Macbeth’s so called noble husband is not up to the task. “Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts! Unsex me here, and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty” (1.5.39-42).

The term ‘unsex me’ refers to Lady Macbeth asking for her to be deprived of her feminine characteristics, attributes and qualities, enabling her to consist of more masculine qualities if she was to be the one to kill King Duncan instead of Macbeth. This is the first time during Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ that there is any sign of a character challenging traditional stereotypes. This act by Lady Macbeth sets the tone of how severe the toxic masculinity is in ‘Macbeth’.

The entire concept of toxic masculinity surrounding men is true but what consistently goes unnoticed it the same attributes present in some women from the 17th century to today’s 21st century. A perfect and suitable example that deems the statement truthful in terms of toxic masculinity in the 17th century is the infamous Lady Macbeth. During act 2 while plotting the assassination of King Duncan.

The same qualities are seen in the 1842 poem ‘My last duchess’ written by Robert Browning, the only difference to ‘Macbeth’ being that the toxic masculinity is being portrayed in traditional stereotypical roles. The Duke mentioned in the poem is quite controlling over his duchess in terms of who she is allowed to communicate with, where she is allowed to go without himself being in her presence.

Robert Browning’s 1842 poem ‘My Last Duchess’ the toxicity can be seen on many occasions but one that stands out the most is “Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt, whene’er I passed her; but who passed without much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands; then all smiles stopped together.” The Duke’s actions or commands came upon because of his duchess smiling at and with the painter Fra Pandolf. The Duke saw this as the duchess flirting, being untrustworthy and unfaithful. Thus him being controlling over her resulting in toxic masculinity.

This concept of toxicity continues to show its presence in today’s modern westernised countries. For example, Gillette recently released an advertisement focused on the topics and issues surrounding bullying, sexual harassment which directly link back to toxic masculinity. The advertisement states that a change needs to be made because the boys of today watching will be the men of tomorrow.

Gillette was trying to elaborate on the idea of setting an acceptable example for children when they grow up. This particular advertisement focuses on male children or boys and the bad examples we are setting them at the present moment. However these bad examples as seen by some also as the traditional stereotypes of what it means to be masculine.

Is it possible for these exhausted traditions to be changed in a quick manner of time to better shape the youth of today’s future?

Women can be just a guilty of presenting toxic masculinity in public as men. This perception of only men can be toxic is not true and men can no longer be solely blamed for it. If society continues to let the toxicity be placed onto the men in our modernised 21st century world of today, it shall cause and continue to cause a negative image and reputation eventually leading to a state in which men are evil, toxic and dangerous.

Not stating all demonstrate behaviours that are evil and dangerous, but this way of stereotypical thinking will give the result of all men are toxic and dangerous. Therefore, in today’s car driven and busy city world, toxic masculinity can often go unseen. However, it is present more commonly than many think within men and women.


  1. Rouner, J. (2017, July 3). 5 Things Men Do That Are an Embarrassment to Our Gender. Houston, Texas, United States of America.
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