Define the concept of ''manhood,'' according to Malcolm, Macduff, and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth.

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Malcolm defines the kind of man he is, his character, in this excerpt from his conversation with Macduff in Act IV, Scene iii:

[I] scarcely have coveted what was mine own,

At no time broke my faith, would not betray

The devil to his fellow, and delight

No less in truth than life.

Malcolm defines manhood in terms of personal integrity.

For Macduff, however, manhood is a matter of strength and responsibility. When he learns his family has been slaughtered, he is overcome by grief. Malcolm tells him to "[d]ispute it like a man." Macduff says he will be strong, but he cannot ignore his feelings: "I must also feel it as a man." Macduff's family was murdered as a result of his opposition to Macbeth, and he takes responsibility for their deaths:

Sinful Macduff,

They were all struck for thee! Naught that I am,

Not for their own demerits but for mine

Fell slaughter on their souls. Heaven rest them now!

Unlike Macduff and Malcolm, Lady Macbeth does not define manhood in terms of very positive traits of character. For her, being a man means being cruel, this idea made plain in her desire to gain masculine traits to replace her own feminine nature:

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 th' access and passage to remorse

That no compunctious visitings of nature [pity]

Shake my fell [savage] purpose . . . .

Later, she fears that Macbeth will not be cruel enough to follow through with Duncan's murder, and she shows contempt for Macbeth, "so green and pale," when he expresses fear for what they are planning to do.

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

For Macbeth, a man should be composed of bravery and boldness. His wife seems to agree, as she tries to talk him back into murdering the king, Duncan, his relative and friend, using a number of pretty harsh arguments. She does actually say "When you durst do it, then you were a man"—essentially, she assumes that a sense of daring is what makes the man. In response to her arguments, he tells her,

Bring forth men-children only,
For thy undaunted mettle should compose
Nothing but males. (1.7.83-85)

In other words, Macbeth tells Lady Macbeth that she should only give birth to boys because her nature is much more suited to males than females. What he calls her "undaunted mettle" refers to her temperament: she is resolute in the face of danger, and she will not be persuaded from her purpose. This, for him, is what men should be.

For Lady Macbeth, also, a man should maintain the utmost self-control while still remaining courageous and daring. When he sees Banquo's ghost at their dinner party and begins to quake and cower in front of his guests, she asks him, 

Are you a man?
. . . 
O, proper stuff! 
This is the very painting of your fear.
This is the air-drawn dagger which you said
Led you to Duncan. O, these flaws and starts,
Impostors to true fear, would well become
A woman's story at a winter's fire,
Authorized by her grandam. Shame itself!  (3.4.70-79)

In asking if he is a man, she implies that he isn't acting like one. She thinks what he's saying about the ghost is total nonsense and just another hallucination because he's so cowardly and fearful. She says that his behavior is that of a woman who is telling a scary story, sitting by the fire with her grandma. She says that he ought to feel ashamed of himself.