Gender In Macbeth Essay

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The concept and perception of gender has changed radically from Shakespeare’s time to now, yet the perceptions of women and the limitations placed on them remain shockingly similar. William Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, Macbeth, addresses gender concerns and the role of women in power positions. The play was written for King James VI of Scotland and I of England as he took the throne during a transitional period in the country’s history. The succession of King James marked the long-desired transition from a matriarchy to a patriarchy. Considering the historical context and Shakespeare’s affinity for King James, some Shakespearean critics hold Lady Macbeth responsible for the political, moral, and personal destruction in the play, as well…show more content…
Judith Butler’s concept of gender performativity suggests that there is a distinction between “sex, as a biological facticity, and gender, as the cultural interpretation or signification of that facticity” (Butler, 522). Performing certain actions that society associates with a specific gender marks you as that gender. In this way, gender is socially constructed. Alfar defines the societal expectation of women as the “constant and unquestioning feminine compliance with the desires of the masculine” (114). Considering Macbeth from a modern perspective and taking this distinction into account, it is necessary to determine if the play is concerned with sex or with gender. Before the action of the play even begins, the audience is warned that “Fair is foul, and foul is fair” (1.1.11). The first scene of the play casts the world of Macbeth as a land where everything is opposite or disordered. This line at the very start of the play cautions audiences to not take the play at face value because things are not always as they appear to be. Because of this, “all the binaries become complicated, divisions blurred. Thus the binary nature of gender identities, male/female, is eliminated” (Reaves 14). In the world of Macbeth, the typical gender constructions are manipulated and atypical. If the play does not deal with sex, the qualities of Lady Macbeth cannot be applied to all women but rather, representative of society’s construction of gender, “the patriarch, and the limited, restrictive roles of women” (Reaves 11). Within this reading of Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare’s examination and questioning of gender construction allows modern day readers to recognize the enduring relevance of

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