Comment on male/female roles and expectations in Macbeth.    

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Macbeth, men are at the top of the Great Chain of Being, women at the bottom.  Here's the order at the beginning of the play:

1. Duncan (King); 2. Malcolm (Prince); 3. Donalbain; 4. Macbeth; 5.  Banquo

So, this is clearly a patriarchy, with males as Kings, Princes, and warriors.  Men fought in battle and women stayed home.

Of the women, Lady Macbeth is ranked highest, but still she is fairly low in order of importance.  Women's roles were domestic: to be good hostesses and make babies.  Lady Macbeth is terrible at both.  She completely resents her domestic role: she wants to be a warrior, or at least achieve the status of warrior.  She doesn't want to be a man, but she definitely resents being a woman.  She says:

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! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature's mischief!

So, convincing Macbeth of murder is about the closest way for Lady Macbeth to get on the "battlefield" and achieve status in this society.

The lowest ranked, of course, are the witches.  Even if you consider them not supernatural, just old hags, they are still at the bottom.  They are the equivalent of homeless beggars or mentally ill patients.

But, after Macbeth kills Duncan, Lady Macbeth becomes a queen and the witches become his advisors.  Though we don't see the socio-economic benefits for these women, their status is clearly risen after the toppling of the earlier patriarchal stratus.