What are some essay topics in relation to the themes of gender and power in Shakespeare's Macbeth?
Gender and power are closely tied in Macbeth, and they can be examined from a variety of perspectives.
At the most superficial level, we can examine who has "power" and who does not. Arguably, the most powerful character is Macbeth, a man, yet he gained his power (being king) from the prophecies of the witches and the encouragement of his wife. While Macbeth ostensibly occupies the power in a "manly" fashion (murder), we might question whether he was actually installed there by female power, as a puppet ruler, beholden to female provocations. Perhaps Macbeth holds the traditional male power because he has to (the role being a male one), and because it is politically expedient for him to do so, and because those who manipulate him seek to use that power for their own gain. This also lends further significance to Macduff's birth by cesarian section; Macbeth is defeated by someone who is "not of woman born", perhaps implying that "true" male power, or at least, a lack of female genesis, was the only way to defeat the largely "female" force that put Macbeth into power.
We should also examine how carefully Shakespeare constructs the idea of being female, as opposed to the reality of it. There are numerous occasions where the female nature is directly addressed in stereotypical terms;
O gentle lady, 'tis not for you to hear what I can speak: The repetition, in a woman's ear, would murder as it fell.
This implies that the nature of women is fragile. Yet on multiple occasions, and especially in private, Lady Macbeth depicts herself in far more brutal terms, in contrast to and especially in contradiction to the aforementioned stereotypes;
I would, while it was smiling in my face,Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gumsAnd dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as youHave done to this.