6 December 2016
Be a Man: Reclaiming Macbeth’s Manhood
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most familiar tragedies, with the protagonists being the murdering duo of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Macbeth is the quintessential tragic hero. A tragic hero is one who makes a judgment error and in doing so brings forth their fall. He starts of being a “brave [man]” (1.2.18), who did this heroic act of killing Duncan’s betrayer; to becoming a betrayer himself, by killing Duncan and countless others to become king and keep the throne. Macbeth has no awareness to the “man” he really is and when he attempts to prove to his wife and himself that he is; he loses his sense of humanity.
Lady Macbeth is the key accuser of his loss of masculinity. It seems that no matter what Macbeth has done, Lady Macbeth will never see him as a “man.” Even when Macbeth says “I dare do all that may become a man;/ Who dares do more is none” (1.70.46-47). She sees this a recognition that he isn’t in fact a man, when he’s trying to show her that he’s what makes a man. He’s just returned from war. Being a man at this time period was doing civil duty and aiding the king in war and committing heinous acts of murders in these wars. “Heilman says ‘the appeal to manliness is used to justify murder’” (Greene). When Duncan hears how Macbeth killed that man, he calls him “brave” (1.2.18). Lady Macbeth feels that she needs to neutralize or diminish her femininity to kill Duncan, because she feels Macbeth isn’t courageous enough.
Lady Macbeth has successfully freed herself from maternal and feminine instincts. When she’s introduced, she is seen asking: “Come, you spirits...unsex me here” (1.5.40-41). She knows women are supposed to be nurturers and weak; she would rather be a man. She even proves this later when she says “[she would have] plucked [her] nipple from his [mouth]/ And dashed the brains out” (1.7. 58-59). It’s hard to believe that any woman would say this about their child. Since she believes she’s freed herself from her femininity, she believes she can commit any horrific thing.
However, she does reveal she does have some sensitivity left when she reveals “had he not resembled / My father as he slept, I had done’t” (2.2.16-17); her life before marrying Macbeth isn’t given, but it’s clear in this statement that she had a good relationship with her father and that she sees him in Duncan. Later, she criticizes Macbeth for being too emotional after killing Duncan: “My hands are of your color, but I shame to wear a heart so white” (2.2.63-64). To her, men are to be brave and fearless, not sensitive; which she contradicts previously when she can’t kill him because he looks like her father.
It appears no matter what Macbeth does, he can never make Lady Macbeth proud of him or believe he is a “man.” Even Green made notice that: “When Lady Macbeth says ’My husband!’, it is the only time she addresses him that way in the entire play and that is...