Does Macbeth conform to the patriarchal discourse in Act III, Scene iv of Macbeth?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As previously mentioned in a prior discussion, patriarchal discourse does, indeed, play a role in Macbeth. In Act III, Scene 4, as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth hold a banquet, Macbeth, who fears the predictions of the three witches about Banquo's children becoming kings has planned for his own sons to succeed him by ordering the death of Banquo and his son Fleance; these plans he has not shared with Lady Macbeth, furthering the motif of patriarchy.

Shortly before the banquet with the lords of his country, Macbeth is informed by his "cutthroat" that Banquo is dead, but his son Fleance has escaped. After the exit of the Murderer, Lady Macbeth informs her husband--"my royal lord"--that he has neglected his patriarchal role as host by failing to make the guests welcome as the food is prepared, a custom that when neglected makes the food seem as though it were no more than a bought dinner.

So, Macbeth greets his guests and welcomes them, and, as Lennox asks his "Highness" to sit, Macbeth feigns surprise that Banquo is not present. However, he then sees Banquo's ghost sitting in his place, and addresses it, "Never shake/Thy gory locks at me" ( 62-63 ).

Lady Macbeth quickly mitigates the surprise of the lords who witness Macbeth's outburst, telling them that Macbeth has some minor condition that causes him to act so since he was young; however, privately, she challenges her husband's manhood again, "Are you a man?" (70). She again assumes a male role, as alluded to in the discussion of Act I, Scene 5, and emasculates her husband with further scoldings that his fear is "A woman's story at a winter's fire," telling him he looks foolish, "You look but on a stool" (78) And, after Macbeth orders her to "Behold" the ghost, Lady Macbeth chides, "What, quite unmanned in folly?" (88) as the ghost exits. Here again is the discourse of patriarchy.

Further in this scene, Macbeth returns his attention to his guests, but as the ghost reappears, ignited by his wife's insinuations, he challenges it this time, ordering it to approach him "like the rugged Russian bear" (120) and be alive again for him to defeat with his sword. Later, after Lady Macbeth dismisses the guests, Macbeth, desirous of re-assuming his patriarchal role, informs his wife that his beginner's fear will harden with experience:

My strange and self-abuse
Is the initiate fear that wants hard use,
We are yet but young in deed. (171-173)