Through reading various works of Shakespeare, I have come to realize that his works do not have many strong women characters. In the play Macbeth, Shakespeare depicts a masculine character through the roll of lady Macbeth. Considering the time period in which the play takes place, men were looked at as strong, masculine, and honorable, while women were supposed to be timid, nurturing, and followed by the lead of the man in charge.
Gender roles are a big part of the characterization of Macbeth and lady Macbeth. The relationship between this couple is much different from a typical marriage relationship of Shakespeare’s time because the wife is telling her husband what to do. Reading this play as a modern audience, it is hard to put ourselves in the shoes of men and women of the time, but I would imagine that this was very scandalous. It is also interesting to think of this relationship as a partnership. In a partnership, there is always one person that dominates, and in this case it is lady Macbeth. In this play, Lady Macbeth dominates her husband by guiding him in the direction that she wanted him to go. This is a little controversial if you blame one or the other, but ultimately they are both responsible for their actions. Lady Macbeth is the guiding force and strength behind this tragedy, but it is Macbeth who follows through with the acts. These two characters have the characteristics of a stable marriage because they complete each other. Lady Macbeth is charming, persuasive, and determined, while her husband is skillful, indecisive, and needs an extra push to commit his desires. Lady Macbeth knows how to operate her husband’s brain in a way that will get them both what they want even if he does not have the initial determination as she does.
Macbeth had mixed feelings about killing Duncan, telling his wife: “We will proceed no further in this business” (1.7.32). Lady Macbeth has decided she has to put his manhood at stake in order to convince him to do the deed:
What beast was ’t, then,
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both.
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now (1.7.44-54).
Lady Macbeth is the one that decides what is best for both of them. She tells her husband to be a man and go on with the plan to kill Duncan. Clearly, she is successful because later on in the play he commits the act.
She takes action over her husband again after he sees the ghost of Duncan. While Macbeth is loosing his mind and seeing the ghost of Duncan, Lady Macbeth pulls it together and says that he has been having episodes like that his whole life. This is very interesting because even though we have seen our fair share of kings whole have mental breakdowns/issues (i.e. Richard II, King Lear, and Macbeth), this is the only play where the wife is present and is taking charge. The end of the play is interesting in the way that lady Macbeth goes from being a strong female character to killing herself. For this time period, people who were honorable did not kill themselves. This was possibly a way to redeem the male characters in the play because if Shakespeare ended his play with a living strong female character, the men of the time would probably not be very happy.