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Feminine Evil in William Shakespeare's Macbeth and King Lear

Good Essays
Feminine Evil in William Shakespeare's Macbeth and King Lear

In Shakespeare's plays King Lear and Macbeth, evil is represented in both women and men. It is significant to the plots of both plays and to their impact through theme and character that evil actions are performed by women. The construction of evil female characters also gives insight into Shakespeare's view of women and their roles in society.

The plot of King Lear is set in motion by the conversation between Lear and his daughters. In return for their love and honour, he will give them land and power. The fact that they are daughters and not sons is significant because Lear demands their total love, trying to put them into a mother role: something he would not do if they were men. Goneril and Regan are neither noble nor truthful and they have no problem lying to their father for their own personal gain. While Regan claims "I am alone felicitate/ In your dear Highness' love." (I.i.75-76) and later treats her father in the most reprehensible manner, Cordelia denies Lear's unnatural request saying, "Sure, I shall never marry like my sisters/ To love my father all" (I.i.103-104). Her truthful refusal to proclaim total love for her father proves her to be the actual loving daughter but results in her banishment. From this first scene, the characters' alliances and allegiances are forged and all that follows is directly resultant.

In Macbeth, Lady Macbeth must be evil in order to advance the plot. The strong love and bond between herself and Macbeth enables her to influence him and spur him to action. They are separate embodiments of the same lust for power: her strong will and determination are the perfect match for his ability to perform horrible and bloody acts...

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...ce the plot lines.

End Note

It is interesting to note, however, that though the women in the plays are devious and evil, they do not actually perform any bloody deeds. Lady Macbeth comes closest by drugging and smearing the guards with blood but the women's capacity for evil tends not toward violence but rather toward cruelty and inciting their men to commit terrible acts. In this way, they strongly parallel a common perception of Eve as the terrible temptress who brought about Adam's downfall.

Bibliography:

Shakespeare, William. "King Lear." The Complete Works of Shakespeare. 4th ed. Ed. David Bevington. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1997. 1172-1218.

Shakespeare, William. "Macbeth." The Complete Works of Shakespeare. 4th ed. Ed. David Bevington. New York: Addison-Wesley, 1997.1223-1255.
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