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Power and Ambitions Through the Macbeth Play

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Power, a device which can be essential to greatness and at the same time pollute the mind and lead to hubris, can only be attained by the most masculine and merciless figures while female figures use manipulation to further their own male ambitions. When we are first introduced to Macbeth, he is the epitome of manliness, ruthless and courageous; however, he soon crumbles under the reprimandments and commands of the cunning Lady Macbeth. The desire to strip herself of all her womanly qualities infiltrates her mind. She utters in a soliloquy, “Come, you spirits/That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here” . 

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Power hungry and desperate, Lady Macbeth realizes that as long as she is a frail woman, power will never be within her grasp. She demands that she be deprived of all maternal qualities so she will no longer be hindered–now able to cut off the flow of remorse and pity to become inhuman and capable of murder, power, and domination. She pleads that all feeling be blocked, so she can commit atrocities with no remorse or natural human emotions. The word “unsex” is particularly interesting. The prefixes of -un and -dis are unusually common in Macbeth, replacing more succinct and common words with neural words turned into negatives. Shakespeare uses these words to indicate something that was or had been before, that no longer is. Lady Macbeth once was a frivolous woman, her sex, but a new chance for power wrought a intense desire to become manly. This contrasts her previous docile state with her current deranged state and emphasizes how power can transform humans. As a woman she is not able to pursue her own ambitions because of social constraints. However, she cannot be “unsexed” and remains ridden with her cumbersome womanly qualities. The protagonists in the play constantly try to take back what has been given as shown by the use of -dis and -un. However, even so, the powers of language cannot completely erase the resented state. So, burning in unquenchable desire for the title of queen, she turns to the next best option.

Lady Macbeth, aware of her predicament, begins sharpening her talons and manipulates Macbeth into killing King Duncan so that together they can gain power. She says, “When you durst do it, then you were a man; And, to be more than what you were, you would Be so much more the man.” By questioning Macbeth’s masculinity, Lady Macbeth uses female methods of achieving power – that is, manipulation – to further their supposedly male ambitions. Women, Shakespeare implies, can be equally as cruel and merciless as men, but the means of achieving this state differs between sexes. Lady Macbeth explains that if Macbeth were to carry out the deed, he would be more masculine. She exploits Macbeth by hurting his pride. This theme of the relationship between gender and power is key to Lady Macbeth’s character and to novel.

I would, while it was smiling in my face,/Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums/And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you/Have done to this. Her use of violent, unnatural images as infanticide represent, not an attempt to gain power through a traditionally female channel, but a rejection of this all together. Instead Lady Macbeth attempts to gain power by invoking masculine violence and cold, male indifference. This notion is supported by and explains the unnatural tone that punctuates scenes involving Lady Macbeth and other female characters that threaten what a patrilineal society would deen natural womanly behavior. 

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