January 16, 2014 The Feminist Theory of Macbeth
Shakespeare's Macbeth is a tragedy that represent the action of male and female power, a play which seems to dramatize the deep divisions that characterize malefemale relationships in all his plays of Lady Macbeth, that her sole purpose throughout the play is "that of overcoming the scruples of her ambitious and yet tenderminded husband.She is ready to sacrifice even her womanly to her murderous intention.For many feminist critics, however, the opinion of Freud and other critics that Macbeth is merely a victim of feminine plotting is an unsatisfactory response to this play. On the most basic level, it is Macbeth who actually murders the king while Lady Macbeth is the one who cleans up the mess.
By analyzing “Macbeth” using Feminist Theory one can better understand how lady Macbeth excessive strong desire for success as well as the witches bad intention.
Indeed, Macbeth's first appearance, covered with blood and receiving high praise for the slaughter of others, gives us our first idea about the acceptable patterns of behaviour, which govern the
"masculine" side of this world:
For brave Macbethwell he deserves that name!
Disdaining fortune, with his brandished steel
Which smoked with bloody execution,
Like valour's minion
Carved out his passage till he faced the slave,
Which ne'er shook hands nor bade farewell to him
Till he unseamed him from the nave to the' chops,
And fixed his head upon our battlements. (1.2.1623)
Macbeth receives the title of "brave Macbeth" amongst his peers for his role as butcher and killing machine. His ruthlessness is welcomed as valorous and wins him the accolades of his male peers.
Thus, masculine power in the play, the society represented by Duncan, is more like the world of
"juggling fiends" to which Macbeth links the witches when they cease to be of use to him at the end of the play.
A more fruitful approach would be a closer examination of the different types of women who are being represented throughout the play, rather than viewing the women in masse, as part of a dark
and evil force "ganging up" on Macbeth. Indeed, feminist analysis can help to point the way towards a clearer understanding of the sort of society Shakespeare is portraying in this tragedy.
For Eagleton, the witches, existing on the fringes of society, are not necessarily the "juggling fiends" (5.7.49) that Macbeth professes them to be at the end of the play. Instead, as feminist critics, we might well ask ourselves about the brutal nature of the society in which Macbeth is living and the effects that traditional labels of "masculinity" and "femininity" have on that society. The nature of gender roles in Macbetha play which is ostensibly about the exchange and usurpation of political authority amongst menis brought to the fore at the very beginning of the play, in the figures of the three Witches in Act One, scene one: "Fair is foul, and foul is fair"
(1.1.12) they tell us. Marilyn French points out the role of the Witches in establishing what she sees as the dynamic of ambiguity that will characterize gender relationships throughout the play. As she writes:
They are female, but have beards; they are aggressive and authoritative, but seem to have power only to create petty mischief. Their persons, their activities, and their song serve to link ambiguity about gender to moral ambiguity.
The witches challenge our assumptions about masculine and feminine attributes from the very start, with their beards and their prophecies. In juggling with the contradictory values of fair and foul,
they call into question the moral systems and standards upon which this play will operate.Shakespeare's witches exist on the fringes of a society in which feminine attributes denote powerlessness and destruction (Duncan, Lady Macduff) and in which