Lady Macbeth can be seen as a strong female character in Macbeth, in fact she’s one of the strongest female characters in all of Shakespeare’s plays. Her influence in Macbeth’s bloody plan to become king can make some people think that she’s a feminist character. Although she’s proved to be stronger than Macbeth in some scenes, I believe that Lady Macbeth is an anti-feminist character and that her character is used specifically to demonstrate misogynistic values in an ironic way. I will talk about four scenes in the play to demonstrate why Lady Macbeth is a catalyst for Misogyny.
Act 1; Scene 5: In this scene a messenger comes to Lady Macbeth and relays to her the news of Macbeth’s title change and his encounter with the witches. Lady Macbeth is willing to do whatever it takes to ensure that Macbeth seizes the crown, but she expresses doubt of him being able to do it. She states, “Yet I do fear thy nature; It is too full o’th’ milk of human kindness to catch the nearest way” ( Shakespeare 1.5. 14-15). Because of this doubt, she explains in her soliloquy that she must set aside her feminine nature and values to complete the bloody deed that she must do which would be to kill King Duncan.
“Come, you spirits
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty!…Come to my woman’s breasts
And take my milk for gall, you murd’ring ministers” ( 1.5. 38-46).
Lady Macbeth believes that in order to murder King Duncan she needs to “unsex” herself and take on savage and murderous tendencies and behavior. As a woman, she can’t bring herself do such foul deeds but making herself more aggressive, which tends to be a masculine trait, will help her succeed. This in of itself is an anti-feminist narrative.
Act 1; Scene 7: in this scene, Lady Macbeth finds her husband to find out if he succeeded in killing King Duncan.
“What beast was’t, then,
That made you break this enterprise to me?
When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man” (1. 7. 47-51).
Lady Macbeth finds out that Macbeth did not kill King Duncan and is having doubts about it. Lady Macbeth gets upset and she calls him a coward. She emphasizes that he was acting like a man when he planned on killing King Duncan, but he would be more of a man if he killed him. This demonstrates how according to lady Macbeth, what makes a person a man is killing someone. Masculinity seems to be a major topic in this play and it’s something Lady Macbeth tries to achieve herself. There’s nothing valuable about femininity in this play and it’s not mentioned. Someone could interpret Macbeth’s doubts and fears to be feminine if not masculine. Lady Macbeth dogging on her husband for not being a man plays a part in this anti-feminist narrative concerning her.
Act 3; Scene 2: in this scene Lady Macbeth learns of Macbeth’s plan to kill his best friend Banquo and his son, Fleance. In this moment the tables have turned, and the roles are switched.
“How now, my lord? Why do you keep alone,
Of sorriest fancies your companions making,
Using those thoughts which should indeed have died
With them they think on? Things without all remedy
Should be without regard. What’s done is done” ( 3.2. 8-12).
Lady Macbeth has become the fearful and doubtful one and tries to convince Macbeth to not kill anyone else. Perhaps she’s beginning to realize the moral repercussions for this. Since Lady Macbeth herself fueled Macbeth’s murder rampage by being more of a man, he sticks to that mindset and insists on continuing forward with the plan. Macbeth is the manly man and of course Lady Macbeth reverts to her passive and meek ways as a female which totally counteracts her manliness when she pushed Macbeth to kill King Duncan. Her reversing her actions and becoming the unmanly character again further illustrates her use of pushing this anti-feminist agenda.
Act 3; Scene 4: in this scene, Lacy Macbeth, Macbeth, and the thanes have dinner in the dining hall after Banquo’s death. Macbeth is convinced that he sees the ghost of Banquo sitting in his seat at the head of the table and starts talking to it and asking if the other lords see him. Lady Macbeth gets embarrassed by this outburst and once more questions his manhood. Macbeth affirms his manhood as he continuously acts insane.
“This is the very painting of your fear;
This is the air-drawn dagger which you said
Led you to Duncan. Oh these and starts,
Imposters to true fear, would well become
A woman’s story at a winter’s fire,
Authorized by her grandam” ( 3.4. 63-67).
Lady Macbeth is beside herself and told Macbeth that this story of hysterics is just like “a woman’s story at a winter’s fire.” She thinks he’s being hysterical and compares him to the hysterics of a woman which in this context is seen as frowned upon. It’s not surprising that historically, women were seen as hysterical, and they were often overlooked because of this. It’s also ironic how Lady Macbeth as a woman is telling her husband that he’s acting like a woman telling this ghost story and it’s very upsetting and embarrassing. How wild! This once again further demonstrates how anti-feminist ideas and stereotypes are brought to life through Lady Macbeth.
Although Lady Macbeth had influence on Macbeth and his bloody agenda, the manly action of killing people still casts Lady Macbeth in a bad light. She ultimately realizes this and dissolves into insanity before taking her own life. Either way, Lady Macbeth is frowned upon and used for an anti-feminist narrative. It’s almost like she’s not only manipulating Macbeth to commit murder but she’s also manipulating the audience into seeing the anti-feminist values and stereotypes through her. Whether that was intended by Shakespeare or not definitely reflects the social climate of the times and its appearance is unmistakable.
Greenblatt, Stephen. The Norton Shakespeare; Essential Plays and Sonnets. Third ed., Norton & Company, Incorporated, W.W., 2015.