Is Macbeth a misogynistic play?   

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Doug Stuva eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare's Macbeth features a woman who feels trapped in a patriarchal or male-dominated society, but I would not call it a misogynistic play. 

No one in particular hates women or persecutes women.  Early in the play, Lady Macbeth even seems to "wear the pants in the family," if you will.  Macbeth backs off and decides not to murder Duncan, but his wife badgers him into going ahead with it.  It may be resentment of her dominance over him that makes Macbeth shut her out of his decisions and plans for the remainder of the play, but it is not misogyny.

Lady Macbeth longs to escape the feminine roles of mother and wife and hostess her society associates with women, however.  She feels trapped.  She was born to lead, but, as a female, she is dependent on her husband.  

She talks about throwing her suckling baby against a rock.  She plays the role of hostess to Duncan, while all the while planning to murder him while he is under her roof.  She pleads with the spirits to make her more like a man.  She was born to be an aggressive leader, but she cannot go ahead with her plan to kill Duncan without her husband's cooperation.  She is a woman trapped in a man's world. 

No, the play is not misogynistic, though it does present a woman trapped in a male-dominated society.  The drastic nature of what she is willing to do (kill a king who rules by divine right) reveals how extensive her feelings of entrapment are. 

teachertaylor eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I have never considered Macbeth a misogynistic play.  The cast of female characters includes Lady Macbeth, her nurse, Lady Macduff, the witches, and Hecate.  Although some of these characters may be deemed as despicable, there are no elements of the play that suggest a hatred for women.  Hecate controls the witches and the realm of magic, but as a god, this moves her away from mortality and the structures of gender.  Lady Macduff is an innocent victim in the play and is shown in a traditional role caring for her sons while Macduff is away.  Lady Macbeth obviously plays the largest female role in the play, and her actions are morally questionable.  She does influence Macbeth to kill Duncan, but after this, Macbeth leaves her out of his plans and continues his killing spree on his own.  In addition, Lady Macbeth feels remorse in Act 5 when she learns that her husband is responsible for the murder of Lady Macduff and her court.  Lady Macbeth's trying to get the "spot" off her hands reveals that she feels guilt, remorse, and responsibility for having helped Macbeth with his plans.  So Lady Macbeth is not entirely cold-hearted and is presented as a round character.  I do not think this suggests misogyny.

shakespeareguru eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In looking specifically at the relationship between Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, it is pretty clear that Lady Macbeth seems the more hate-filled about her femaleness and mocking of Macbeth's manhood, than treated in a misogynistic way by him.

She asked to be "unsex"ed in order to participate in the murder of Duncan.  She also condemns her own breasts, wishing her "milk" to be taken for "gall" -- clearly wishing to leave her womanhood behind in favor of a more manly demeanor.

Later, once Macbeth has arrived, she taunts him about his virility:

When you durst do it, then you were a man.

And to be more than what you were, you would

Be so much more the man.

Interestingly, it seems, at least between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, to be a case that is exactly the opposite of misogyny.  Lady Macbeth appears to hate her own womanhood and also to deride Macbeth about his lack of manhood.



mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In wondering where the idea that Macbeth could a misogynistic play, one may consider Lady Macbeth and perhaps the "three sisters."  Lady Macbeth is one of Shakespeare's most intimidating characters, at least initially:  her husband implies that she has a masculine soul inhabiting a female body.  Likewise, the witches are female but have beards, beards that deter Banquo:

You should be women,

And yet your beards forbid me to interpret

That you are so. (1.3.46-47)

While some may interpret this masculinity in the women as a type of hatred for women, the play implies that women can be as ambitious and as cruel as men, but social constraints deny them the means to pursue these ambitions on their own.  With an androgonous appearance, the witches may be more convincing than if they look like women.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I tend to agree--Macbeth is not a misogynistic play.  It's true there are very few female roles, but that's true in all Shakespeare and Elizabethan plays because women weren't generally actors and too many men acting as women on a stage would be farcical.  It's also true that the witches--who are often "blamed" for Macbeth's evil actions--are women; however, the audience recognizes that Macbeth makes his own decisions and the witches merely prod his arrogance, they don't create it.  Lady Macbeth is the only real "hater" in the play, and she hates men, if anyone.  Nope, no misogyny.

kristenfusaro eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would have to agree with the previous posters by stating that I do not believe Macbeth to be a misogynistic play. If anything, I think Macbeth may empower women because Lady Macbeth, as vile as her intentions may be, demonstrates a woman with power, strength, and intelligence. Of course, the play seems to bear "sexist" stereotypes, such as the woman's role is supposed to be nurturing, but we must also remember to put the play in the perspective of the time that it was written and the setting that it is based in.