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Standards and Stereotypes: Lady Macbeth's Defiance of Gender Expectations

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William Shakespeare's Macbeth presents an immense alteration in gender roles and stereotypes through the characteristics of Lady Macbeth. Her intriguing personality and unique decisions allow her to be one of the most absorbing female characters in Shakespearean history. Through her behaviour, actions, and possession of dominance in her relationship, Lady Macbeth proves herself to be more than just the average woman of Elizabethan culture. Throughout the duration of the play, Lady Macbeth defies the feminine stereotypes imposed upon women of her era.
In Elizabethan times, women were stereotyped to be weak and fragile. However, Lady Macbeth refutes this stereotype through her striving ambition and skills of manipulation. When she first heard of Macbeth’s foreseen becoming of king, Lady Macbeth became ambitious in the sense that she would have done anything for her husband to obtain this position. This ambitious behaviour had driven her to call upon evil spirits “that tend on mortal thoughts [to] unsex [her]... and fill [her with]... direst cruelty” (1.5.44-46). The women of this time were expected to only act upon order from men. However, Lady Macbeth possesses a driving ambition that ultimately contradicts gender-theory. Women of the Elizabethan era were also stereotyped to be timid and tender, but instead, Lady Macbeth exhibits bold and torturous behaviour. When Macbeth displayed early guilt of the intent of Duncan’s murder, Lady Macbeth claimed she would rather “have pluck’d [her] nipple from [a baby’s] boneless gums and dash’d [its] brains out if [she] had sworn as [Macbeth had to their plan]” (1.7.62-64). Lady Macbeth displays no sign of the stereotyped tenderness of Elizabethan women. When the murder was complete, Lady Macbe...

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...time came. As Macbeth began to feel nervous and uneasy about his task, Lady Macbeth scolded him, claiming a “beast… made [him] break this enterprise to [her, and] when [he] durst do it, then [he was] a man” (1.7.52-54) Lady Macbeth challenged Macbeth’s masculinity, which allowed her to regain dominance in her relationship and convince Macbeth to follow through. With Lady Macbeth’s constant manipulation and commands, it is evident that she, the woman, possesses dominance over Macbeth, altering the gender roles and stereotypes of a husband and wife.
Lady Macbeth was able to manipulate not only Macbeth, but the gender stereotypes imposed upon women of Elizabethan culture through her personality, actions, and her relationship with Macbeth. Like the gender roles and stereotypes were defied throughout Macbeth, gender-theory will continue to be altered in society, today.
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