What Does it Mean to be a Man or a Woman? A theme the tragedy of Macbeth routinely reveals is one of gender roles. Throughout the play, many characters struggle with conflict within themselves; not unlike conflicts that we face inside ourselves today. Various major conflicts throughout the screenplay are somehow connected with characters’ roles as men or women. The dominant question is, do the characters know who they are as men and women? Although Macbeth’s age was never stated, it is concluded from his naivety and emotional immaturity throughout the play that he might not be much older than a current college student.
Young adulthood sometimes contains an internal struggle to find oneself, not only working to discover who they are as a person, but they are as a man or a woman. As demonstrated many times throughout the script, Macbeth is internally fighting with his masculine instincts. For example, in Act I, the captain, Duncan, and Malcolm discuss Macbeth’s “heroic” and violent tendencies (Macbeth I. 2. 15-22). From childhood, men thrive to be a hero. Sometimes, in their minds, that means being rashly violent as well.
So when these men mention Macbeth’s unnecessarily brutal strategies, it makes one see the battle Macbeth must be struggling with to gain the role of “hero” in others’ eyes. The witches also play a part in Macbeth’s battle of identification with himself. The bearded women plant the seed of ambition in Macbeth. Macbeth realizes that he is lusting after the throne and the power that comes with it. But, at first, he does not know how to deal with it. (“If good, why do I yield to that suggestion Whose horrid image doth unfix my hair And make my seated heart knock at my ribs,
Against the use of nature? Present fears Are less than horrible imaginings. My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical, Shakes so my single state of man That function is smothered in surmise, And nothing is but what is not. ”) (I. 3. 135-143). It is normal for men to want to be ambitious. God created men as a ruler, as stated in Genesis: “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (NLT Genesis 1:26).
Therefore, men have ambitious souls. God did not intend to have sovereigns or rulers of people, but men and women ruined that when Adam and Eve betrayed the Lord. Macbeth is not in tune with himself and how his emotions and ambitions will affect other people. This is one of Macbeth’s atrophies and causes him to lust for increasingly more power. Lord Acton once said, “Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. ” Men also need women’s acceptance to accept themselves.
They want women to see their masculinity and power – hence the reason they like to display their muscles and talk about their accomplishments. However, when a women does not show that they appreciate the manhood, it puts the man down. Think about the way males react when called a coward, especially if it is a woman. They puffs out their chests, try to seem larger than they actually are, and object. In Act I, Scene 7 Lady Macbeth calls Macbeth a coward, and he begs her to stop. (“Art thou afeard To be the same in thine own act and valor
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life, And live a coward in thine own esteem, Letting ‘I dare not’ wait upon ‘I would,’”) (I. 7. 39-45). Then, she insults his manhood; the ultimate way to manipulate the male gender. Macbeth sees that the only way to impress his wife, is by killing the king and following his own ambitious instincts. The way Lady Macbeth spoke these words to Macbeth, there was no way in his mind that he could object – it would ruin his masculinity.
From there, Macbeth will not stop until he reaches absolute power. He even uses his wife’s tactics and questions the murders’ manhoods when manipulating them to kill Banquo. (“Do you find Your patience so predominant in your nature That you can let this go? Are you so gospeled To pray for this good man and for his issue, Whose heavy hand hath bowed you to the grave And beggared yours forever? ”) (III. 1. 87-93). The gender roles quickly became a large part of the plot to get people to complete tasks for others’ benefits.
Characters constantly bring up manhood and relate it to their rise or lack of a rise (Lady Macbeth- “unsex me”) to power (I. 5. 41). However, power wasn’t meant for man; it was meant for God. This power became an idol – the characters put it between them and God. That was the characters’ downfalls. Instead of being a “manly man,” they should have tried to be a man of God as in 1 Timothy 6:19, “so they may experience true life” (NLT). One does not realize their true self, until they realize they are a man or woman of God.