During the sixteenth century, power and status were not transferable. Men were in all positions of power as Kings and nobles. However, Women did not have a voice as they were seen as submissive to their husbands and were in charge of their households. As Shakespeare explores what it means to be a man, he depicts masculinity as having power. Furthermore, in order to be powerful, one must be masculine and show no cowardice or fragility. In Macbeth, Shakespeare challenges the powerful male role in the sixteenth century; as the women of the play, Lady Macbeth and the Witches, assert their power and mask their femininity, while Macbeth and King Duncan’s rely on the words of others to recognize their worth.
Lady Macbeth puts herself in a position of power as she criticizes Macbeth for not being manly enough to follow his ambitions for power as King. In order to gain power as King, Lady Macbeth urges Macbeth to believe he must prove himself a man by killing Duncan. Lady Macbeth establishes dominance over Macbeth by emasculating him. She describes Macbeth as feminine and too kind to kill the King: “Yet do I fear thy nature; It is too full o' th' milk of human kindness”. Lady Macbeth is not submissive to her husband as she should be. She continues to tell Macbeth if he kills the King he will prove himself a man: 'When you durst do it, then you were a man.' She influences Macbeth by challenging his masculinity and motivating him to do whatever it takes to gain power. Lady Macbeth is a woman in power as she rejects her femininity. Lady Macbeth’s ambition for power causes her to want to kill the King herself. She prays to no longer be female in order to have power as a male: 'Come, you spirits; That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here' . For as a woman, Lady Macbeth cannot be King; therefore, she makes herself dominant and powerful in her marriage through her influences on Macbeth.
Throughout the novel, the three Witches’ prophecies lead Macbeth to follow his fate. The witches have power over Macbeth as he puts his full trust in the Witches’ prophecies. Despite their low status in society, Macbeth honors the words of the Witches and believes “they have more in them than mortal knowledge' . Despite the witches being women and outcasts from society, their voices are respected as men. The witches are depicted as masculine with beards; “You should be women,; And yet your beards forbid me to interpret; That you are so.” Their deception of being masculine reveals their influence over Macbeth dominates his plans for power.
As Macbeth follows his ambitions for power as King, he relies on the guidance of women and needs validation to feel powerful. As King Duncan has honored him, Macbeth feels he can no longer overtake the King. “We will proceed no further in this business.; He hath honored me of late, and I have bought; Golden opinions from all sorts of people”. Macbeth is too afraid to He has faith in the witches - not self or church “Had I three ears, I’d hear thee.” listening to witches “But screw your courage to the sticking place,;And we'll not fail.”
King Duncan shows fragility through his trust in Macbeth. As King, Duncan is powerful and honorable by his title. However, he has no part in the war and receives news of the war from the captain. From the news of the war, he is quick to trust Macbeth and views him as honorable: “No more that Thane of Cawdor shall deceive; Our bosom interest: go pronounce his present; death; And with his former title greet Macbeth.” King Duncan does not have masculine power for his dependence on and ignorance of the ambitions of his successors makes him fragile.
Shakespeare reveals women can be powerful and dominant when they are masculine. The idea of a woman having power and influence is defiant of the woman’s role in the sixteenth century. However, Lady Macbeth and the witches have a strong influence on Macbeth. Lady Macbeth puts herself in a position of power as Macbeth’s. Throughout the novel, the men rely on the validation of others to feel powerful.