“Gender roles are a social construct. When we attempt to assign strengths and weaknesses to either gender, we literally cut our potential as the human race in half.
” This quotation, spoken by an anonymous person, perfectly exemplifies the issues that are caused by gender stereotyping. In society, different gender roles and stereotypes may seem harmless, but they can easily become a boundary and burden on the decision-making process of both genders. Macbeth’s plot helps identify these ongoing issues. For instance, female characters in the play such as Lady Macbeth and the three witches mock the stereotypical female traits by acting oppositely. Furthermore, male characters such as Macbeth and Macduff also surprise readers by not following the traditional expectations of ‘manhood.’ William Shakespeare’s tragic play, Macbeth, explores and challenges different stereotypes and gender expectations that are seen throughout society by making the characters act in contrast to their stereotypical gender; this suggests that gender roles are not ingrained, but are a choice.
Macbeth questions how both genders should be represented within society, specifically women. In the Shakespearean era and even now, women are depicted as people who are kind, soft-hearted, and caring. Despite these stereotypes, William Shakespeare challenges gender expectations by making the women in the play appear more powerful than the men. Through the ECD of character, it is evident that the main female characters, like Lady Macbeth, do not act like their stereotypical gender. Women in the Shakespearean era are expected to act motherly and nurturing, but the character of Lady Macbeth acts contrastingly. In Act I, Scene vii of the play, Lady Macbeth strongly emphasises her points on how Macbeth is a coward and weak-minded by implying that shewould prefer to do something violent rather than go back on her word:”I have given suck, and know How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me.
I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums And dashed the brains out.” ()Lady Macbeth’s statement is highlighted as something ironic because women’s prime role in the Shakespearean era and even the current era is to be a loving and kind-hearted mother. However, Lady Macbeth is shown to be quite vicious and cruel. Since there is a social norm regarding both genders and how each gender should act, Lady Macbeth and possibly other women are characterised as abnormal if they are assertive and display an aggressive attitude. When men state their opinions, they are considered to be influential and portray traits of a role model, but women who state their opinions are considered to be spiteful and overbearing. Women face this issue constantly when it comes to jobs and politics as they are judged through different criteria based upon stereotypes. Furthermore, through the development of plot and ECD of character, it is evident that the women in Shakespeare’s time are expected to be more passive and submissive towards men. However, the women in Macbeth are depicted as more dominant than the men.
In Act III, Scene v, the witches discuss their plan for Macbeth’s downfall:”He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear His hopes ‘bove wisdom, grace, and fear. And you all know, security Is mortals’ chiefest enemy.” ()The witches are shown to be the active agents of the entire play, which is ironic since men have always been expected by society to take on the active role of leadership. Women, in contrast, are expected to be more submissive and passive towards the men in their lives. But, the witches actively seek to make Macbeth overconfident and in this way, they gleefully plan for his destruction. Because of what the witches have demonstrated in the play regarding power, they signify that women do have the potential to be powerful people. The play suggests that the ideal of a passive and submissive woman is just a stereotype.
However, this particular stereotype still plays a major role in current society. There have been many doubts regarding the strength that females possess, and many women in society are disregarded from many job opportunities and leadership roles. Discriminatory practices hold back a lot of women from being the successful persons they desire to be. Through limitations on their education and income, women are prevented from demonstrating their true selveswithout criticism and repercussion, which eventually leads to a loss of power through lack of self-esteem and willpower.In Macbeth, William Shakespeare also decides to depict the roles of men differently as he makes them appear more feminine than the female characters in the play. As seen through the aspects of character, it is evident that the main male characters in the play do not act like their stereotypical gender.
Specifically, men at this time would have been expected to be brave, ruthless, and vicious, but characters like Macbeth act contrastingly. In Act I, Scene vii, Macbeth refuses to play the role of the ambitious warrior who will do anything to get what he wants:”We will proceed no further in this business.He hath honored me of late, and I have boughtGolden opinions from all sorts of people,Which would be worn now in their newest gloss,Not cast aside so soon.”()Macbeth does not represent the stereotypical masculine ideal in society. He firmly decides not to play into the stereotype of being the ruthless and vicious male character he is expected to be. Instead, he puts his foot down and decides to be respectful towards Duncan. This is ironic, considering that women are expected to be the kind and passive ones within society. Men are expected to be tough, independent, and competitive.
According to the American Psychological Association, because of the challenges and judgement men face when dealing with masculinity, there has been many links to mental health issues such as substance abuse and depression (APA, 2016). Furthermore, based upon studies made by many psychologists, men and boys are afraid to share their true thoughts and problems with other people as they are expected by society “to put on a brave face” or to just simply keep every thought to themselves. Because of this, males live with stigma for the rest of their lives and different mental health problems eventually lead to their death. Masculine expectations create a barrier which prevents men from expressing their true selves: they are made to feel vulnerable because of the fear they have of being seen as weak and delicate. It is also evident throughout Macbeth that other male characters, such as Macduff, do not act like their stereotypical gender.
Apart from being ambitious, men during Shakespeare’s time were also expected to show no emotion and to be hard-hearted. However, Macduff willingly shows emotion. In Act IV, Scene iii, Macduff is distraught at the news of his fam