How Shakespeare Presents Macbeth’s Treatment of Lady Macbeth throughout the play *plot summary*
In the 17th century women weren’t treated as they are today. They were treated as being inferior to men as their thoughts and opinions did not matter; their pursuits were restricted to domestic matters only (taking care of homes, raising children); they were completely controlled by their fathers and husbands and weren’t allowed to make any decisions of their own but were still devoted and supportive of their spouse. They were seen as powerless, weak and very submissive to men. Most women who opposed these social prejudices risked their lives and were often executed. This essay will focus on Macbeth’s treatment of Lady Macbeth changes throughout the play and how it contrasts to the treatment of 17th Century Women and the societal norms of the time. Paragraph 1: Act 1 Scene 5
In Act 1 Scene 5 Lady Macbeth is seen reading out a letter written by her husband explaining how he met with The Witches and how they prophesized him becoming King. In this scene Lady Macbeth is presented as a loving and devoted wife by stating “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be what thou art promised”. This suggests that her initial reaction to the letter is a pleasant one, saying that Macbeth will get what he is promised and that he is already a great man with his worthy titles as Thane of Glamis and Thane of Cawdor and that he will be King. This is supported well by the use of the word “promised”, suggesting that she thinks so highly of Macbeth that there is no way that he couldn’t become King. She is so supportive of him that she promises that he shall become King without fail. This supports the idea of women in the 17th Century as she is showing devotion and commitment to her husband. But then the presentation of Lady Macbeth takes a sudden turn. She follows up the previous statement by saying “yet I do fear they nature, it is too full o’th’milk of human kindness”. This has sharp contrast to the previous statement as she is effectively calling her husband weak, powerless and incapable. This also eradicates the idea that she was presented as a typical 17th Century woman, as here she is calling her husband too weak to carry out a simple deed whereas a stereotypical woman would be fully supportive of their husband. Her use of the word milk is interesting as it is a very feminine word, often associated with breastfeeding and nurturing. As the play was written in Elizabethan times we know that their gender roles would have been very traditional. Lady Macbeth is, in effect, saying that Macbeth is too full of feminine goodness. Also, the word “fear” in her soliloquy suggests that she is not just concerned about Macbeth’s inability to kill but she genuinely fears it, as she wants power. She wants reputation and to break away from the stereotype of a woman at the time. This quote suggest that Macbeth doesn’t treat her with the authority that a typical husband would have and that he allows her to be a free-thinker. He may be so blinded by love and compassion that he cannot see what a tyrant Lady Macbeth has become or may just be so weak that he is submissive to his own wife, when, at the time, the norm was for the wife to be passive and meek where the husband would be controlling and dominating. This creates the idea that the roles in Macbeth’s and Lady Macbeth’s partnership have been swapped around.
Act 1 Scene 7
In Act 1 Scene 7 Macbeth ponders the deed of killing Duncan, alone. He is fully aware of the complications of committing regicide but he is very doubtful as this quote illustrates, “Who should against his murderer shut the door. Not bear the knife myself.” This means that he feels that as Duncan is his friend the ethically right thing to do would be to try and stop the murderer rather than do it himself. When Lady Macbeth enters Macbeth asserts his dwindling masculinity by stating “We will proceed no further in this business”. This is an imperative command and any typi