What is the relationship between gender and power in Macbeth?

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You might also want to consider the roles of the witches in relation to gender and power.  They are often referred to as "the weird sisters," but are just as often (when the play is staged) considered gender-neutral as participants in the play, since their "male" or "female"-ness isn't the point of their existence in this story, but rather it is their supernatural/evil participation in the plot.

Consider how the play might be different if you have a cast of men playing the witches.  Would their actions seem more threatening, more powerfully persuasive to Macbeth?  Or, if the cast is all women, is there more power to be utilized in their female gender?  Do they, for example, woo Macbeth with their sexual wiles?

By the way, the idea of power simply being an overt, warlike, masculine expression of dominance is certainly not the only type of power to consider.  Consider the amount of power that Lady Macbeth holds over Macbeth and whether she might be using her relationship with him as his wife, her sexual wiles, to influence him.

Power in drama is often found in the conflict between individual characters in the play.  So, you should read the play carefully to note where gender seems to influence the way in which a character gains or loses power in a scene.  For example, what role does gender play in Act IV, scene ii, the murder of Lady Macduff?

I suggest, if your essay is to be only 150 words, that you track one character (or group of charcters if you choose the witches) through the play and note how gender affects their interactions with others in moments of gaining or losing power.  Good luck!

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You don't ask a question in your question, you just give a topic, so I don't really know if you're supposed to agree or disagree, explain, or use the prompt as a thesis statement.  Also, the 150 words are up to you.  It's your assignment.  You have to take the information given and write your own assignment answer. 

Gender and power certainly do not constitute the theme of Shakespeare's Macbeth.  They constitute one theme--one idea or issue raised--in the play. 

Males possess the power.  Lady Macbeth would like to.  She would alter her gender if she could.  She wants to be an aggressive, powerful warrior and ruler, but she is limited by her gender to using her husband to achieve power. 

Lady Macbeth is supposed to be a good wife, be a good hostess, and be a good mother.  She relishes the role of wife (possibly only because her husband is her path to power, we don't know), but plays hostess only to set a trap for Duncan, and rejects the love a mother should have for a child in favor of her ambition for power. 

Lady Macbeth is intelligent, a planner and organizer.  Born a female, she longs to reverse roles and be a male.  When she comes as close as she can by manipulating her husband into murdering Duncan--her only means of power--it backfires.  Macbeth shuts her out of his decision-making process and causes his own downfall, as well as hers.

She, figuratively, is a man trapped in a woman's body.  She, literally, is a woman trapped in a man's world.

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An important theme in Macbeth is the relationship between gender and power. How does Shakespeare subvert his characters' perception of gender roles?

Let's look at the issue of Shakespeare's subverting of gender and power roles from the perspective that when Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, around the time that James I assumed the throne of England in 1603 after the death of Queen Elizabeth I, female characters were played by men and boys.

This practice began in Ancient Greece during the time of Sophocles, Aristophanes, and Euripides, and continued well past the Elizabethan period until 1660, when King Charles II, who was exiled in France after the execution of his father, Charles I, was restored to the English throne after the death of Oliver Cromwell and the disastrous Protectorate of Cromwell's son, Richard, also known as "Tumbledown Dick." After promising to rule in cooperation with Parliament—something that Charles I got beheaded for refusing to do, thank you very much—Charles II was welcomed back to England.

On July 9, 1660, King Charles II issued a "patent" (license to perform) to two London theatre companies:

Forasmuch as many plays formerly acted do contain several profane, obscene and scurrilous passages, and the women’s parts therein have been acted by men in the habit of women, at which some have taken offense . . . we do likewise permit and give leave that all the women’s parts to be acted in either of the said two companies may be performed by women.

Margaret Hughes is credited with being the first woman to perform on an English stage when she played the role of Desdemona in Shakespeare's Othello on December 8, 1660. Way to go, Maggie!

Back to Macbeth . . .

The Three Witches and Hecate (another witch who was probably added to the play at a later time by Thomas Middleton) were played by older men. Lady Macbeth was played by a young man. So, too, was Lady Macduff. The Gentlewoman who attended Lady Macbeth might have been played by an older or younger man, depending on who was available.

Keep in mind that there were only about 16 actors in Shakespeare's acting company at any given time, and since many of Shakespeare's plays had twice as many characters (sometimes more) than the number of actors in the acting company, the actors who didn't have leading roles had to play more than one character (called "doubling").

And one man in his time plays many parts . . . [Jaques, in As You Like It, 2.7.149]

Again, back to Macbeth . . .

Shakespeare's manipulation of gender roles begins in the very first scene of the play with the Three Witches. They're planning something for Macbeth, which we find out two scenes later is going to change his life and the lives of the people around him forever—and not necessarily for the better.

In the third scene, the Witches meet again, as previously arranged, and here come Macbeth and Banquo, right on cue, all sweaty and dirty and bloody and manly, taking a break from a battle in which Macbeth cut a guy in half longways without even saying "hello."

The Witches put their plan into action by telling Macbeth that he's going to be King and telling Banquo that even though he's not going be a king himself, he's going to be the ancestor of kings. James I of England, who believed himself to be descended from Banquo, attended the first performance of Macbeth at his palace in London.

Shakespeare probably put that part about Banquo in the play just for James. James also wrote a book on witchcraft, which is probably why there are so many witches in the play.

Remember that the Witches are played by men, and that the Witches are usurping the male role by ordering events and determining the consequences of courses of action for the alpha male character in the play, and, by extension, everybody else.

Lady Macbeth, too, does her best to push around the alpha male, her husband, by making rude remarks about his manhood and manliness to shame him into killing Duncan so Macbeth can be King, and, more importantly, so she can be Queen.

Macbeth gives in. He says he'll kill Duncan. Then he says he won't. He sees a computer-generated image of a dagger in the air. He talks to himself. "Should I kill Duncan or not? What will people think? What should I wear? Should I have my hair done?"

As far as Lady Macbeth's line about "unsex me here" is concerned [at 1.5.42], she isn't asking to be made into a man. She's asking to be made into an unfeeling killing machine.

Lady Macbeth clearly takes on the male role by convincing Macbeth to kill Duncan, and then by finishing the job that Macbeth was supposed to do. Macbeth was too scared to go back in the room with the dead and bloody Duncan, but Lady Macbeth wasn't, and without hesitation, she went back in the room and left the daggers by the guards so it looked like they killed Duncan.

Soon she's back with Macbeth, telling him to get his act together, clean himself up, and get prepared for what's going to happen when people find out that Duncan has been murdered in their house.

By now, Lady Macbeth has completely reversed the gender roles. She holds the power in her relationship with Macbeth, and in the country, and she remains in power and in charge until the enormity of what she's done catches up with her and she starts walking around the castle in her nightgown and slippers mumbling to herself about "damned spots."

Again, remember, in Shakespeare's time, Lady Macbeth was played by a man who was acting like a woman who was taking over the man's role and the power that went with it.

That must have been really something for James I to see.

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An important theme in Macbeth is the relationship between gender and power. How does Shakespeare subvert his characters' perception of gender roles?

Shakespeare does this in his portrayal of the relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. In the world of political ambition and power struggles, the major players are very often men. Macbeth certainly has ambition but at first he is hesitant about trying to translate this ambition into reality. Lady Macbeth seizes upon this as a sign of his fundamental weakness which, she scoffs, is most unbecoming in a man. She taunts his lack of aggression and willpower and finally stings him into taking action. At the same time, we see her in private, working herself up to the level of ruthlessness needed in for the task in hand, which requires her to put off her own womanly characteristics. In a much-quoted passage from the play she asks the powers of darkness to 'unsex' her (Act I, Scene 5, line 42), in effect to free her from qualities such as compassion and tenderness which are generally perceived to be feminine, because such qualities will only hinder the quest for power. Therefore, Shakespeare subverts traditional gender roles by showing Lady Macbeth, rather than her husband, to be the aggressively ambitious one. 

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An important theme in Macbeth is the relationship between gender and power. How does Shakespeare subvert his characters' perception of gender roles?

When using the key words "gender," "power," and "subvert" in terms of Shakespeare's Macbeth, there is only one character to which all three are applicable--Lady Macbeth, of course.  You have some excellent analysis already, and I would only add one more idea.  Lady Macbeth is--in all ways but one--the consummate hostess.  There was an implied power to that position, which she clearly subverts when she undertakes the murder of a guest in her own home.

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An important theme in Macbeth is the relationship between gender and power. How does Shakespeare subvert his characters' perception of gender roles?

I'm not quite sure I understand your question.  The "perception" of power that you speak of would be something that the audience holds, since the characters are inside the story, not perceiving and analyzing it.  Certainly, especially in Shakespeare's plays, characters comment on the action, but since Shakespeare is the creator of his own characters, he cannot subvert their perception of anything.  They simply exist as he has created them.

On the other hand, the audience is on the outside of the story, and Shakespeare, if he is aware of perceptions and preconceptions they might have regarding a subject such as gender roles, might definitely create a character with the intention of surprising or subverting the audience's expectations.

The best example of this sort of reversal of expectation would be the character of Lady Macbeth.  Her role, as wife to a high-ranking Thane, would have been, first to produce an heir, and also to assist her husband in maintaining his rank and position and serving as hostess to their guests.  However, in the very first scene in which she is introduced in the play, she is demanding to be "un-sexed" and proceeds to manhandle Macbeth into following through on what appears to be a stronger lust for power and position than that of her husband.

And, subverting his audience's expectation yet again, he has this same  super-strong Lady Macbeth, by Act V, wilt and break as the frailest of female flowers under the weight of her guilt.  She turns into a mad and fragile female, unable to withstand the consequences of her mighty and masculine choices earlier in the play.

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An important theme in Macbeth is the relationship between gender and power. How does Shakespeare subvert his characters' perception of gender roles?

In Macbeth, traditional gender roles are subverted through the power play that exists between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth at the beginning of the play.  When Lady Macbeth learns of the witches' prophecy, she immediately thinks that her husband does not have enough courage in him to go after the throne.  On several occasions, she chides Macbeth's manhood and tells him that he is not strong enough to get the deed done in the hope of persuading him to follow through with murdering King Duncan.  In one of her soliloquies, Lady Macbeth wishes that fate would "unsex" her so that she might be able to do the deed herself without fear.  These scenes suggest that traditional gender roles are reversed by the power play between two characters.

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