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Maligning Women In Shakespeare's Macbeth Essay

2971 words - 12 pages

Women in Macbeth

 
    Why did the playwright include only one noteworthy woman in Shakespeare's tragedy Macbeth? This essay will not answer this question, but rather tell about this one woman - Lady Macbeth, with lesser consideration of the magical weird sisters.

 

In Fools of Time: Studies in Shakespearean Tragedy, Northrop Frye shows that a lady is the actual driving force in the play:

 

That Macbeth is being hurried into a premature act by his wife is a point unlikely to escape the most listless member of the audience, but Macbeth comes to regret the instant of fatal delay in murdering Macduff, and draws the moral that

 

The flighty purpose never is o'ertook ...view middle of the document...

Having sustained her weaker husband, her own strength gives way; and in sleep, when her will cannot control her thoughts, she is piteously afflicted by the memory of one stain of blood upon her little hand.  (792)

 

In "Macbeth as the Imitation of an Action" Francis Fergusson enlightens the reader concerning the fears weakening Lady Macbeth:

 

 I do not need to remind you of the great scenes preceding the murder, in which Macbeth and his Lady pull themselves together for their desperate effort. If you think over these scenes, you will notice that the Macbeths understand the action which begins here as a competition and a stunt, against reason and against nature. Lady Macbeth fears her husband's human nature, as well as her own female nature, and therefore she fears the light of reason and the common daylight world. (108)

 

The Tragedy of Macbeth opens in a desert place with thunder and lightning and three witches who are anticipating their meeting with Macbeth, "There to meet with Macbeth." They all say together the mysterious and contradictory "Fair is foul, and foul is fair." Macbeth is greeted by the witches with "hail to thee, thane of Glamis," "thane of Cawdor," and "thou shalt be king hereafter!" When Ross and Angus arrive with news of Duncan's reward ("He bade me, from him, call thee thane of Cawdor"), it is logical for Macbeth to assume that all of the weird sisters' prophecies will come true. Futilely, Banquo cautions, "And oftentimes, to win us to our harm, / The instruments of darkness tell us truths," but Macbeth is "rapt" on the "suggestion / Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair

And make my seated heart knock at my ribs," and concludes that "chance may crown me," remaining steadfastly confident in the witches' prophecies.

 

At Inverness in Macbeth's castle, his lady, after appreciating his letter detailing the witches' prophecies, reacts with, "Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and shalt be / What thou art promised," yet she fears that her husband's nature is "too full o' the milk of human kindness / To catch the nearest way" - words whose meaning becomes clear in her subsequent statement: "The raven himself is hoarse / That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan / Under my battlements."

 

Duncan's visit to Inverness, a one-night celebration of the victory, occasions quick plotting by the Macbeths ("If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well / It were done quickly"), who are fully aware of the moral evil involved: "But here, upon this bank and shoal of time, / We'ld jump the life to come," and "this even-handed justice / Commends the ingredients of our poison'd chalice / To our own lips." When Macbeth has a change of heart, and says to his wife, "We will proceed no further in this business," she responds with an accusation of cowardice, "Art thou afeard / To be the same in thine own act and valour / As thou art in desire?" Her cold cruelty stands out as she re-converts Macbeth to the...

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