Shakespeare: Macbeth and Religious European Society Essay

Submitted By gdebanen
Words: 1587
Pages: 7

Plenty of literary feminists have argued that Shakespeare reflects many misogynistic aspects into his plays. For instance, Lady Macbeth from Macbeth kills herself after becoming crazed with power and corruption. Ophelia from Hamlet, driven insane with guilt, commits suicide. Additionally, in Romeo and Juliet, Juliet kills herself after disobeying her parents, and discovering her forbidden fruit, Romeo, has taken his own life. On the surface, their accusations make sense. Historically, the Shakespearian era was a time where women had no participation in government and were treated as property of their fathers or husbands. They were expected to be submissive and bear children rather than enter a profession. Women who were not in the noble classes were uneducated. Thus, Shakespeare is simply a product of his time, viewing women as second class.( Shakespeare included plenty of examples of this sexism in his writing. For instance, in Romeo and Juliet, a Capulet servant believes “Therefore women, being the weaker sex, are all thrust against the wall...”(###). In Hamlet, while Hamlet is brewing about his mother’s action, he notes that “Frailty thy name is woman”(###) . Furthermore, his uncle critics Hamlet for having “Unmanly grief”(###) Some will argue that Lady Macbeth is full of power, and cannot possibly reflect a chauvinistic quality in that play. However Lady Macbeth must first have the “spirits unsex [her] here”(###) before she can begin to gain power. When King Duncan is killed, Macduff says, “O gentle lady, Tis not for you to hear what I can speak; The repetition in a woman's ear Would murder as it fell”(###) reflecting the ideal that women cannot handle the seriousness and gravity of situations. Additionally, the religious European society viewed suicide as a sin. As all three of these Shakespearian women kill themselves, they commit a grave sin, supposedly demonstrating weakness. Every woman from the tragic innocent ones, to the power hungry, and every woman in between is killed off.
From the perception of some scholars, this disposal of women is reflective of their weakness, and Shakespeare’s chauvinism. However, looking at their argument factually, readers can find the gaps in their debate. First and foremost, women were not the only ones to die or kill themselves in these plays. Hamlet contemplated suicide but was eventually killed, Macbeth was murdered, and Romeo took his own life. Moreover, it is impossible to view Shakespeare as a misogynist when taking into account his relationship with Queen Elizabeth I, whom was his major patron and admirer. She would even occasionally give Shakespeare an idea for a play, which Shakespeare would in turn accept (
Disregarding the idea that he was prejudice to women brings back into question of why Shakespeare chose to kill so many of his female characters through suicide. Males, on average, lead in number of suicides per country. Though the statistics for suicides are not available for the Elizabethan era, looking at modern statistics can reveal a trend that correlates to the presumable trend during the Elizabethan era (though it can be safely presumed that suicide in general was less common, as the religious background alienated its use). For the United States of America, males are approximately 19 suicides per 100,000 people per year, while females are only 4.9. In Japan, there are about 33.5 male suicides per 100,000 people per year and 14.6 female suicides per 100,000 people per year ( If men take their own lives more often, why would Shakespeare disproportionality represent women killing themselves?
To answer that question, scholars need only look to the characters that condemn themselves to death. Juliet, Lady Macbeth, and Ophelia all display similar characteristics that contribute to their suicide. Each are placed in a situation that they have no control over and are restrained by their society.