What can you learn from the role of women in Macbeth?

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One thing that is striking about Macbeth is the extent to which women are, to a great extent, the driving force behind the title character's rise and fall. The witches plant the idea of murder in Macbeth's mind in the third scene by hailing him as the future king of Scotland, and they misleadingly convince him of his own power and indestructibility through their prophecies. He trusts them until the end, when he discovers that they have led him astray. Similarly, Lady Macbeth is very influential, perhaps even decisive, in urging her husband to go through with the murder of Duncan. She questions his masculinity and his courage to persuade him to abandon his fears and his conscience to kill the sleeping king. She is initially remorseless, and urged Macbeth to be so as well. In short, Shakespeare gave these women characteristics that his contemporaries would have regarded as masculine. Though they are not by a long shot his only strong female characters, Shakespeare portrays their behavior as unnatural--the witches are described by Banquo as having beards, and Lady Macbeth is explicit in her desire to "unsex" herself to drive her husband to fulfill his destiny. So what we can learn about women's roles in Macbeth is that to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, operating outside of these roles was unnatural and potentially deadly. So the play indicates something of how gender and the natural order of things were viewed in Jacobean England. 

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