SMRIDHI Macbeth, Shakespeare subverts the traditional social norms

Rough Outline
Critically analyze Shakespeare’s subversion of the feminine stereotype in his representation of Lady Macbeth and the witches in Macbeth.

Thesis Statement
The 16th century England was a time when women, in their greatest perfection were characterized to serve and obey men to confirm to patriarchal superiority. Through the characters of the witches and Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Shakespeare subverts the traditional social norms by presenting androgyny in witches through their beards and an alternative womanhood in Lady Macbeth calling out the spirits to ‘unsex’ her. Shakespeare weaves a network of strategies for portraying the witches and Lady Macbeth as an agent of subversion while still cautioning the audience that women who repudiate these stereotypes are bound to suffer as Lady Macbeth ends up committing suicide and the witches vanish into thin air never to be seen again.

Feminine Stereotypes
Mini Thesis:
The Elizabethan era represented the apogee of English Renaissance and did wonders for theatre and music but couldn’t do much for the dilapidated status of women.

Women did not receive any formal education but were only made skilled in performing housewifely duties.

Single women were looked upon with suspicion and were often thought to be witches. All women were expected to marry and bring in dowry.

Women were raised to believe that they needed a male relative to have a social identity. It can be seen in the naming of the characters of Lady Macbeth and Lady Macduff who are identified only as the wife of their husbands in the entire play.

Lady Macduff can be seen upset in Act IV Scene II hen her husband leaves home as she knows he is the protector of the house and without him she and her children will be lacking in character and power.

Mini Thesis: Shakespeare subverts the feminine stereotypes through the characters of the witches and Lady Macbeth by showing androgyny and an alternative womanhood in them respectively.

The witches
Meeting up in an open place while being an outcast and women characterizes their subversion of the typical norm of women being confined to domestic spaces.

The witches have been described as old women with wrinkled skin, pointed noses and stringy hair with beards and choppy fingers. Their appearance threatens to blur the ideological boundaries that defined gender roles in Renaissance England.

Banqo is seemed to be baffled and seen voicing his concern when he asks
-what are these,
So withered and so wild……
…..yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so Act I Scene III
Banqo’s words “You should be women” simultaneously posit the witches as victims as well as agents of subversion.

Lady Macbeth
Her sexual power and agency free her from the constraints of feminine reprised and her treatment of her husband in act one scene 7 subverts tradition marital roles for the women of Elizabethan era.
In Act I Scene V, she calls upon the spirits to unsex her, to fill her breast with gall and stop her menstrual flow.

She is ambitious and her desire for power and her plans to obtain it are the main constituents of her dwindling womanhood that makes her subvert the traditional feminine stereotypes prevalent in the Elizabethan Era.

Attempting at breaking free from any of the feminine instincts – proclaims how if she had a baby she would have ‘plucked my nipple….. had I so sworn’. Subverting the maternal instinct stereotypes.

Shakespeare’s Representation
Mini Thesis:
Shakespeare did not have much faith in traditional gender roles. His writings were way ahead of time
His constant subversion of the stereotypes is effectively done through the portrayal of ambition driven and strong headed women. To show that women could be ambitious was really commendable on his part.

Outcaste women like witches are seen meddling with and manipulating country’s fate and politics in a public sphere.

Specification of gender roles as constituted by the order of renaissance’s socio-cultural world are blatantly disregarded by Shakespeare in his representation of the characters


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