Lady Macbeth And The Three Witches: Dark, Similar, Dominant And Influencing

1650 words - 7 pages

Robert Cohen
Lady Macbeth and the Three Witches: Dark, Similar, Dominant and Influencing
Shakespeare’s Macbeth introduces female characters that seem atypical from the traditional gentle females of literature. Both the witches and Lady Macbeth are sinister women, associated with ominous weather, bad deeds, and corrupt morals. The play’s setting in the 11th century, a time where women were undoubtedly subjugated to male superiors, makes the witches and Lady Macbeth seem anomalous with women of the Middle Ages who faced complete male domination. In Macbeth these roles are reversed, as it is the women who hold the reigns, taking on masculine roles and dictating action, to the point ...view middle of the document...

In many ways it seems as if Lady Macbeth herself is a witch (p. 29). Although witches are women, they normally have both male physical characteristics and personality traits. The witches are wicked and vulgar, definitely not typical characteristics of traditional women in literature. When Banquo first sees the witches he says “you should be women,/ And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/ that you are so” (I. 3. 42-4)- the witches appear androgynous. Similarly Lady Macbeth’s initial lack of guilt and inhibition concerning murder is comparable with how a witch or man might treat such a deed. Aware of his wife’s lack of femininity Macbeth declares, “bring forth men-children only, for thy undaunted mettle should compose nothing but males” (I. 7. 72-4). In her soliloquy, Lady Macbeth asks to discard all traces of her femininity, saying:
Come, you spirits
That tend on moral thoughts, unsex me here
And fill me from the crown to the toe topfull
Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood,
Stop up th’access and passage to remorse
That no compunctious visiting’s of nature (I. 5. 38-43)
She additionally calls upon the spirit to “Come to my woman’s breasts/ And take my milk for gall” (I. 5. 45-6). Menstruation and breast-feeding are two distinctly feminine biological traits and by eliminating them, she would become androgynous, much like the three witches. Lady Macbeth also takes on the habit of sleepwalking; the Doctor treating her calls this “A great perturbation in nature” (V. 1. 8). Sleepwalking can be seen as something supernatural, as witches are regarded as supernatural beings, this is another way Lady Macbeth appears to be a witch.
Throughout Macbeth Lady Macbeth is not only a masculine figure, but also emasculates Macbeth. It is clear the Lady Macbeth is the dominant figure in the relationship between her and her husband. The plot to murder Duncan was conjured not by Macbeth, but by his wife, who orders him to “put/ This night’s great business into my dispatch” (I. 5. 65-6), “Leave all the rest to me” (I. 5. 71). While normally it is the husband who orders the wife, Lady Macbeth dictates to her husband. When Macbeth is hesitant to go through with their plan Lady Macbeth not only viciously insults him, declaring that he will “live a coward in thine own esteem”(I. 7. 43), but also questions his manhood saying “when you durst to it, then you were a man” (I. 7. 49) Her domination over Macbeth, evident through her ability to effectively belittle and emasculate him to go through with the murder, shows who is the male in their relationship. The witches too assert power over Macbeth; when Macbeth first encounters the witches, he presses them for more information, ordering them to “Stay, you imperfect speakers. Tell me more./…Speak, I charge you” (I. 3. 71-9). Despite his commands, the stage directions indicate that the “witches vanish,” directly defying Macbeth.
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