Emasculation at it’s finest

After reading Acts I and II of Macbeth, I was most intrigued by the constant emasculation of Macbeth by his wife.   It is clear that Lady Macbeth “wears the pants” in this marriage.  She is displayed in these two acts as more driven and unshaken; unlike her husband, once she makes up her mind there is no wavering or turning back.
            
We first see Lady Macbeth in 1.5 when she is reading the letter her husband has written her about his encounter with the witches.  Immediately upon reading the letter, she is willing to do anything to realize the prophesy and seize the crown. This is certainly different than Macbeth’s reaction in 1.3; he know what he must do in order to become king, yet he is very uneasy about it and begins to engage in an internal argument with himself.  In Lady Macbeth’s soliloquy starting a 1.5.13, she begins to list all of Macbeth’s qualities that make him less of a man and less able to complete such a task as killing Duncan.  “Yet I do fear thy nature./It is too full o’th’ milk of human kindness/ To catch the nearest way.” (1.5.14-16).  The ability to produce milk is obviously something unique to females.  By stating that her husband is “too full o’th’ milk” is extremely emasculating. 
            
Once Macbeth enters, Lady Macbeth acts as though she is a football coach giving Macbeth the play and a pep talk.  “To beguile the time,/ Look like the time.  Bear welcome in your eye,/ Your hand, your tongue.  Look like the’ innocent flower,/ But be the serpent under’t…/Only look up clear./ To alter favour ever is to fear./ Leave all the rest to me.” (1.5.61-71).  Almost always in Shakespeare’s time, the man takes the position of authority and leadership, while the woman remains submissive.  Here, we have the complete reversal and, strangely, Macbeth doesn’t seem to be upset by this.  He follows his wife’s every direction without an argument of who’s in charge.  Later, in 1.7, Lady Macbeth again mocks her husband and ridicules him for acting “unmanly.”  “When you durst do it, the you were a man;/ And to be more than what you were, you would/ Be so much more the man…/I have given suck, and know/ How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me./ I would, while it was smiling in my face,/ Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums/ And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn/ As you have done to this.” (1.7.49-59).  In this instance, not only is she emasculating her husband, but she is also de-feminizing herself by claiming that she would so brutally and violently abandon her maternal instincts in order to get what she wants.    

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3 thoughts on “Emasculation at it’s finest

  1. Timothy

    I have to agree completely with your post and the way that it looks at the relationship between Macbeth and his wife. You are correct in the way that Lady Macbeth is the driving force behind a significant amount of Macbeth's actions, which as you said throws conventional male-female relationships at the time.

    Reply
  2. Kristin Barker

    I completely agree with the points you make in this post. I found myself making the same ones as I was reading the first two acts. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth switch gender roles and you can tell that Lady Macbeth definately wears the pants in their household and she takes on a strong masculine role especially when she says unsex me here. I think throughout the rest of the play we will see the Lady Macbeth become less feminine and more masculine.

    Reply
  3. Dylan Gerety

    I like the deep exploration of the dynamic between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth here. Throughout this entire play, the inversion of natural order is present in all things and is most prevalent perhaps in the relationship between Macbeth and his wife who is one of the most powerful and wicked female figures we've encountered in Shakespeare's work

    Reply

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