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How are women portrayed within "Macbeth"?

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larico | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted February 26, 2009 at 1:37 AM via web

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How are women portrayed within "Macbeth"?

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gbeatty | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 26, 2009 at 3:36 AM (Answer #1)

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Women are portrayed in "Macbeth" in two primary ways. First, they are portrayed as being highly influential, but not as being the primary actors. The play is called "Macbeth," after all, not "Lady Macbeth." In this it reflects the time.

 

A more complex way women are portrayed is as distinct from the ways of men, and in untrustworthy, even "weird" ways. "Weird" is used here specifically: women are involved with fates, magic, and strangeness. They have powers that are not natural and that reach across time and space. This can be seen in the witches, but also in Lady Macbeth's planning her husband's future.

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kc4u | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted February 26, 2009 at 3:43 AM (Answer #2)

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'Macbeth' is essentially a tragedy of ambition that presents a male world of war, murder, conspiracy and violence. Women and all that is traditionally believed to be feminine seem heavily marginalised in the Macbeth world of moral topsy-turvy. Lady Macbeth and Lady Macduff are the two women portrayed as foils to each other: Lady Macbeth sacrificing her female self to stand by her ambitious husband's side and Lady Macduff sacrificing her life in the hands of killers commissioned by Macbeth and still holding on to her identity of an innocent wife & a caring mother. Macbeth's 'vaulting ambition' flared up by the Witches' prophecy leads to Lady Macbeth's unwomanly cruelty and her assumption of the powers of evil. She chooses to step into the shady world of villainy, secrecy, conspiracy & lust for power. She suffers from psychological crises leading to somnambulism and suicidal death. She is, indeed, a victim of circumstances.Lady Macduff appears in only one scene and she dies an unnatural death.

We have three witches and their queen Hecate. The queen and her uncanny followers remain objects of supernatural awe and fear. The Witches appear as old, wizened women wearing male costumes, and even growing beards; they stoke up the seed of evil ambition in Macbeth, just as Lady Macbeth keeps the ambition growing in her husband's mind. The witches possess an ambiguous sexuality, and their dubious nature is always suspect. They equivocate to Macbeth's doing and undoing.

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pmiranda2857 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted February 26, 2009 at 5:15 AM (Answer #3)

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The women in Macbeth have substantial power over the main character.  The three witches and the head of the witches Hecate give Macbeth just enough information so that his natural instincts toward ambition and greed are stirred up.  He literally destroys himself with the help of the witches.

Lady Macbeth is a strong influence over her husband.  She convinces him to go through with killing King Duncan.  Macbeth had a crisis of conscience before he told his wife he had decided to forget about killing the king.  She succeeds in begging, pleading and insulting her husband into accepting the fact that he must kill the king.

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rawr-dani | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted November 15, 2011 at 2:25 PM (Answer #4)

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Women in Macbeth are conveyed in conflicting ways. On one hand, you have Lady Macbeth, who is depicted as a power-loving individual, who has the upper hand in her marriage and shows a lot of strength. Similarly she is shown to be be ruthless and uncaring (especially during the scene where she speaks of how she would kill her own child if she had promised she would).
However this isn't the only way that women are depicted. For example, at the start of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is shown as being strong and powerful, but this changes by the end of the play. She becomes incapable of dealing with the crime that she and Macbeth have committed and ends up committing suicide. This shows that Shakespear really thinks that no matter how strong a woman appears to be, they will, inevitably be brought down before a man. This idea of looks being deceptive is conveyed throughout Macbeth with the witches chanting things such as "Foul is fair and fair is foul".
Also, women are not only depicted as being un-caring and ruthless, as shown by Lady Macbeth, who cares for her child and her family.
As you can see, women in Macbeth are depicted in very different and somewhat conflicting ways.

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rawr-dani | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted November 15, 2011 at 2:27 PM (Answer #5)

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Women in Macbeth are conveyed in conflicting ways. On one hand, you have Lady Macbeth, who is depicted as a power-loving individual, who has the upper hand in her marriage and shows a lot of strength. Similarly she is shown to be be ruthless and uncaring (especially during the scene where she speaks of how she would kill her own child if she had promised she would).
However this isn't the only way that women are depicted. For example, at the start of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is shown as being strong and powerful, but this changes by the end of the play. She becomes incapable of dealing with the crime that she and Macbeth have committed and ends up committing suicide. This shows that Shakespear really thinks that no matter how strong a woman appears to be, they will, inevitably be brought down before a man. This idea of looks being deceptive is conveyed throughout Macbeth with the witches chanting things such as "Foul is fair and fair is foul".
Also, women are not only depicted as being un-caring and ruthless, as shown by Lady Macduff, who cares for her child and her family.
As you can see, women in Macbeth are depicted in very different and somewhat conflicting ways.

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