How are women portrayed in Macbeth?

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In Macbeth, the women tend to be as ruthless as the men, with Lady Macbeth being the best example. Lady Macbeth is the one to convince Macbeth to assassinate Duncan , more so than the three witches. She questions his manhood and even claims she is more committed to...

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In Macbeth, the women tend to be as ruthless as the men, with Lady Macbeth being the best example. Lady Macbeth is the one to convince Macbeth to assassinate Duncan, more so than the three witches. She questions his manhood and even claims she is more committed to following their ambitions than he is. Lady Macbeth also tries to sever herself from her femininity, claiming she would kill her own baby while it was breastfeeding if it would further her power and invoking unholy spirits to "unsex" her so she will lack feminine compassion. The three witches are also presented as masculine in traits, down to their physical appearances (Banquo notes they sport beards).

The only other female character in the play is Lady Macduff, who is killed by Macbeth's assassins after he becomes king. She is not evil as Lady Macbeth or the witches are, yet she is just as outspoken, angry at her husband's desertion of them rather than being obedient and compliant of his actions. Unlike Lady Macbeth, she is affectionate towards her child and fiercely protective of him when the murderers invade the house. She is killed offstage, but she is no wilting flower.

So while women in Macbeth are often consigned to rule from the shadows or exist outside of society, they are certainly not silent or subservient to the men in their lives, at least not entirely.

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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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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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