Macbeth: a False Portrayal of Women in Literature

Individuals in current society are unique and have different ideals, mannerisms, and lifestyles; the ways in which people differ in their customs is something that is celebrated. In the early 1600s this was not the case. Women were not able to be authentic or contradistinct to the accustomed stereotypes of what men thought they should be. The play Macbeth was written in the early 1600s by William Shakespeare; it reflects the social turmoil of the times and set a precident for the struggles that women were experiencing during that era. In Macbeth, Shakespeare immortalizes the general opinion of women at that time.

William Shakespeare wrote the tragedy of Macbeth in 1607 for King James of Scotland and his elitist aggregation, and it reflected many of the ideas of the status quo. King James had extremely particular views on women, he was a firm believer in witchcraft and he was convinced that if women did not carry out conventional feminine duties they were evil and participated in the supernatural. Due to King James and his reign, women were treated inhumanely, their role was to be a sex object and a maid. Women were denied basic rights that men were granted; such as, receiving an education or being able to choose whom they marry.

The burden of the average woman was to be a caretaker; her job was to tend to the house, cater to her husband, and bear children. The average woman’s demeanor was expected to be timid and extremely tame and it was not ladylike for a woman to produce her own thoughts nor her own opinions. The way in which women are depicted in the story Macbeth, is a direct reflection on social ideas of women at the time, the few women that are shown in the play are shown as devious and immoral, especially compared to the valiant male characters that are depicted throughout the play.

In the tale of Macbeth the women seem to have an adequate amount of power and prove that: if women are able to be expressive or offbeat they will turn into ruthless monsters, or better yet, witches. The women delivering the news of great success to Macbeth were not given names, rather they were just dubbed as “The Witches. ” They are unmarried and involved themselves in the supernatural, and were women who had not settled into one place, rather they roam like gypsies with one another; these women were portrayed as evil and conniving beings that were ugly and wretched.

When Macbeth and Banquo were first approached by this group of witches, Banquo comments “What are these/So withered, and so wild in their attire,/That look not like th’ inhabitants o’ th’ earth,/And yet are on ‘t?. . . /You seem to understand me,/By each at once her choppy fingers laying/Upon her skinny lips. You should be women,/And yet your beards forbid me to interpret That you are so (1. 3. 39-47). Banquo is not only acknowledging the physical flaws of The Witches, but he is stating that they were ungodly creatures who could not have been regular people like himself.

I think it is important to state the fact that Shakespeare decides to make these characters female, to represent them as evil temptresses luring Macbeth and creating chaos in his life and pushing him on his downward spiral filled with betrayal and evil. The fact that these are female characters that did not confine to the stereotypes of what society thought they should be, creates an extreme that represented King James’s ideas of women at the time.

The Witches were also shown as untrustworthy and seemed to have enjoyed Macbeth’s pain and suffering. They speak of prophecies that are only “half-true,” The Witches tell Macbeth that he will live to be undefeated and he will have an uninterrupted reign as King of Dunsinane. Through an apparition The Witches tell Macbeth, “The spirits that know / All mortal consequences have pronounced me thus: / ‘Fear not, Macbeth; no man that’s born of woman / Shall e’er have power upon thee” (5. 3. -77). The Three Witches are telling Macbeth that he shall not be slain by any man born of woman, and Macbeth thinking the obvious: that all men are born of women, instantly assumes that he is undefeatable and will be triumphant in his reign. When Macbeth is eventually killed by Malcolm who is not technically born of woman The Witches are shown as guilty for the false hope that they give Macbeth and are depicted as deceitful even though they were accurate and honest in their predictions.

Shakespeare made it out to seem as if The Witches planted a seed of a calamity in Macbeth’s mind, but in actuality The Witches only reinforce Macbeth’s sick desire for power and superiority. This portrait of crooked women is not only shown through the general stereotypes of witches, but also through women who were supposed to be prim and demure. Lady MacduffMacduff and a definite member of the high society, was depicted as an untrustworthy woman who betrays her husband in his time of need.

Although her love for her husband and family is evident , when she learns of her husband leaving her for affairs in England she tells the murderers- people who she does not know, that her husband is a traitor (4. 2). She is another piece of a reoccurring theme that appears throughout Macbeth, portraying women as untrustworthy, corrupt, and conniving. Although she is only a part of the play for a very short time, she is still shown as an individual who must not be trusted. Lady Macbeth was the wife of Macbeth, a gentlewoman who was assumed to be representative of the ideal woman of the times.

No sort of erratic or eccentric behavior was to be seen out of any woman, especially the high class women of Shakespearian times. Lady Macbeth was the complete opposite of what masses claimed she ought to be. She did not fulfill the duty of being a woman of the times, she was not the soft spoken nurturer that she was expected to be an agent for, rather she was depicted as untrustworthy and evil. She was shown as a devious creature with a ruthless aptitude for evil. She says, “I have given suck, and know/ How tender’tis to love the babe that milks me. I would, while it was smiling in my face,” Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums/ and dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you/ have done to this’ (1. 7. 62-67). She is saying that if she had to, she would savagely beat her own child to death without remorse nor hesitation. She shows this in the most radical example when she completely shuns what should be the woman’s most sacred bond: the bond between a woman and her child. Lady Macbeth is shown as cold and heartless with no sympathy for typical human emotions; she feels that archetypal feelings are signs of weakness.

When Macbeth informs her of The Witches predictions of his future kingdomship she fears that he is not apathetic enough to do whatever it takes to become powerful and to become king. She claims, Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be What thou art promis’d. /Yet do I fear thy nature, /It is too full o’ th’ milk of human kindness /To catch the nearest way (1. 5. 15-18). To Lady Macbeth “the milk of human kindness” is a distasteful and abominable substance, especially for a man to obtain and express in his general demeanor.

Lady Macbeth is heartless, and is fearful that her “milky” husband does not have what it takes to be able to “catch the nearest way,” which in this instance, is killing the current king. Throughout the story we see Lady Macbeth lead her husband on a chaotic journey through murder, dishonesty, and betrayal. Through Lady Macbeth’s ways we are able to relieve Macbeth of the blame for his actions and point the finger at Lady Macbeth, although the atrocities Macbeth committed were his own. Throughout the play of Macbeth we see women depicted in a negative light. They are not shown to be loyal or brave like their male counter parts.

They are shown as witches who want nothing more than to bring men down, Shakespeare chose to show women in this light to please the masses and show them how women were not to be trusted. The conniving actions of the women in Macbeth allow the reader to blame them for the tragedies that occur even though none of them are the direct cause. Women were the underlying force behind the plot of Macbeth and they are shown as seductresses of evil, attempting to lure the men onto paths of evil themselves. Shakespeare does this to show women in a certain way, and to project his ideas on society.