Macbeth Essays On Manhood

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Manhood's Significance in Macbeth

The theme of manhood is examined as displayed in Shakespeare's Macbeth.


Although consistent use of certain patterns of imagery such as clothing, blood, and animals are found throughout Macbeth, constant references to certain concepts are often present as well, without the implication of being used as imagery. One of these consistently mentioned topics is that o the question of manhood. Shakespeare, through his characters, expresses a number of different possible views on the subject, and through all these one may sort to find his true belief on the topic.
As the action in the play begins to heat up due to the impending murder of the king, the first mention of manhood is made, in the form of a questioning of Macbeth?s. Lady Macbeth proceeds with a badgering of Macbeth in his mental anguish over whether or not to murder the king, accusing him of being a coward. Macbeth?s response directly cites manhood:
Prithee peace!
I dare do all that may become a man.
Who dares do more is none. (Act 1, Scene 7, lines 46-48)
This quotation may give a hint to Shakespeare?s leaning on the direction on manhood; later definition of manhood given by Macbeth may be faulty in his drunken-with-ambition state, but here, he is still a relatively rational human being. Shakespeare?s wording of this interpretation in him might be one to trust, as Macbeth still retains at this point some semblance of being a good man. But Lady Macbeth?s definition of manhood is far different:
When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more than the man. (Act 1, Scene 7, lines 49-51)
In this, the reader sees a contrasting view to Macbeth?s view that a man does all that becomes him--Lady Macbeth?s view that a man is only a man when he dares to do the dangerous. This view is more of a representation of the popular view of the time, representing the majority in the domineering nature oof Lady Macbeth. Shakespeare portrays this viewpoint as something spoken in a passion and for that reason much less rational.
Later viewpoints on the subject of manhood some after the murder of Duncan, when blood is already on the hands of each of the Macbeths and Macbeth has already risen to his wife?s definition of manhood, and in fact the viewpoints of each of them begin to change places--Macbeth becomes the daring one and his Lady becomes the one who is reluctant to dare to do too much, the one who is the softy.
Malcolm also comes into the picture on the subject of manhood, later when he is encouraging Macduff to fight:
Dispute it line a man. (Act 4, Scene 3, line 220)
The irony is that Malcolm, himself, is not a man--he is a ?loser.? Often, those who tell one to behave like a man are those who are not men themselves, similar to Lady Macbeth, who couldn?t bring herself to kill Duncan, telling Macbeth to dare to be a man. But the response to Malcolm?s weasely comment rings more true:
I shall do so;
But I must also feel it as a man. (Act 4, Scene 3, lines 221-222)
This passage is most telling of Shakespeare?s feelings toward manhood. While hypocrites go around denouncing others for not daring to be men and defining men in the macho sense that we so often see today, those who are really men provide the most accurate definition: men may act decisively and viciously at times, but they also feel. The section of manhood so often ignored by all societies is in Macduff?s eyes, the eyes of a real man, more important than the usually emphasized sector. Men have emotions, too, and they must express that emotion, as Shakespeare does through Macduff, to truly be men.
Macbeth?s state of confusion and overwhelmedness by the utter power of the throne comes out in his last mention of manhood:
Accursed be that tongue that tells me so [that Macduff was not born of woman],
For it hath cowed my better part of man! (Act 5, Scene 8, lines 17-18)
Macbeth, although before his ascent to corrupt power he had a more righteous view of manhood (doing all that befits a man), now defines the better part of manhood as that which would be courageous. Surely, courage is a virtuous quality, but Macbeth ignores the real emphasis on emotion that man has in Macduff?s accurate definition--the major part of his manhood, he cites has been lost to fear, although he does not mention the existence of emotion in him and only mentions manhood in reference to courage, as his Lady initially did.
Indeed, one ought to look to the courageous and emotional national hero of Macduff for the accurate definition of manhood. Although Shakespeare cites multiple interpretations of the subject, his true feeling comes partially through Macbeth?s feeling of doing only what befits a man, and mostly through Macduff?s allowance for the usually-ignored emotion.






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