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Androgyny In The Characters Of Macbeth And Lady Macbeth

2329 words - 9 pages

Androgyny in the Characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth   

    In her book, Woman and Gender in Renaissance Tragedy, Dympna Callaghan addresses the presentation of women in Elizabethan England, stating that "women were clearly socially subordinate, and the preponderance of discourse on the gender hierarchy was misogynistic" (Callaghan 12). According to Marianne L. Novy in Love's Argument: Gender Relations in Shakespeare: "'Woman' seems to be associated with qualities - emotions, fears, - one has against one's will, and 'man' with a preferable mode of existence. Men are exhorted to be men, and women, playfully or seriously, often attempt to imitate men" (Novy 198). While men and women were born different, it was society's treatment of their distinguishing sexual traits that defined them either as masculine, and thus in a position of power, or as feminine and unable to challenge male authority.

Much of the literature composed in Elizabethan England reflects, whether deliberately or inadvertently, the gender inequities cited by Callaghan, Novy, and others. In William Shakespeare's Macbeth, the dynamics of the marriage between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth involve a mutual striving towards manhood as a result of misplaced gender traits in each. Shakespeare develops the androgyny of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, and this becomes the basis for the offenses they commit in the play. Both characters achieve a position of power and authority through the use of their masculine characteristics, but their feminine characteristics make their gains tenuous and ultimataly cause their downfall.

Throughout the play Shakespeare presents the feminine traits within Macbeth as the characteristics that mark him as a flawed man. When Macbeth says, "I have a strange infirmity, which is nothing" (Macbeth 3.4.87), Shakespeare makes it plain to his audience that this is a fatal flaw of a man who would be king. The "nothing" of this line connotes absence, and in the language of early modern England this meant absence of a male phallus and the presence of female genitalia (Bevington 1090). Therefore, this proclamation of Macbeth is not merely an excuse for his strange behavior at the dinner table, but is also a symbolic representation that the cause of his downfall can be attributed to the 'woman' in him.

Lamentation is an expression of being powerless to effect one's own affective environment, and in a patriarchal society this outlet is reserved primarily for women. We find this in other Shakespeare characters such as Lady Anne, the Duchess of York, and Queen Elizabeth in Richard III (Richard III 1.2, 4.1, 4.4). Any such sign of helplessness by a man could be construed by members of his society as unmanliness, thus rendering him undeserving of the privileges one gains by having been born male. So when Macbeth laments: "O, full of scorpions is my mind, dear wife!" (Macbeth 3.2.39), he is displaying a side of himself inconsistent with his biological sex. Like...

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