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Masculinity as a Central Motif in Macbeth

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Macbeth Reader’s Response

In Macbeth by Shakespeare, masculinity is one of the central motifs of the play. What it takes to be a man and how to consider yourself a man is spoke about very often. According to the play Macbeth, the qualities of a “good” man is to kill those who oppose the higher power, face the families and spirits of those who were killed, and know when to stop killing those who do not need to die.

One scene in Macbeth where someone who opposes the higher power and is killed, is act 3 scene 1, where Macbeth hires murderers to kill Banquo. In this scene Macbeth explains to the three murderers why Banquo must die. Macbeth states “Know Banquo was your enemy.” He then goes on to state,” So he is mine, and in such bloody distance that every minute of his being thrusts against my near’st of life.” (Shakespeare, pg.89). Macbeth tells the assassins that Banquo is an enemy to Scotland because he is both the citizens (murderers) and the king’s (Macbeth) enemy. For the assassins, this justifies the killing of Banquo. Masculinity is shown in this scene but it seems it is only through Macbeth’s eyes. Macbeth believes that if he kills Banquo, which is the person who opposes the higher power (Macbeth), then his masculinity is proven even though everyone around him is hesitant about the killing.

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Facing the spirits of those one has killed is another way to show masculinity in Macbeth. Macbeth had to face the ghost of Banquo in act 3 scene 4. Macbeth sees Banquo’s ghost at the dinner table and does not realize he is the only one who can see Banquo. Macbeth starts to lose his mind and become maniacal and everyone is startled. People begin to believe that Macbeth is not well. Ross states, “Gentlemen, rise. His Highness is not well.” (Shakespeare, pg.103). In this scene Lady Macbeth actually showed what counted as masculinity back then, in handling the situation. She states, “ The fit is momentary; upon a thought he will again be well.” (Shakespeare, pg.103). This scene showed the contrast of Macbeth to Lady Macbeth as well because Lady Macbeth showed the masculinity and Macbeth showed the “femininity.”

In the end of the play, Macbeth become tyrannical and is so scared of losing power that he wants to kill everything in his way. This is another scene where Lady Macbeth showed the masculinity and Macbeth showed femininity. Lady Macbeth wants all of the killing to stop because it is not necessary. She cries to the Doctor, “The Thane of Fife had a wife. Where is she now? What, will these hands ne’er be clean? No more o’ that, my lord, no more o’ that.” (Shakespeare, pg.163) Though this seems more of a feminine cry, it shows that Lady Macbeth had a sense of when the killing was enough. Macbeth wanted to kill Macduff but because of how he became so maniacal, he wasn’t able to fulfill the deed and actually lost his own life. In act 5, Lady Macbeth showed the masculinity.

In Macbeth, masculinity is one of the central motifs of the play. According to the play Macbeth, the qualities of a “good” man is to kill those who oppose the higher power, face the families and spirits of those who were killed, and know when to stop killing those who do not need to die.

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