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Summary: the Gender Stereotypes in the Shakespearean Plays

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In the Shakespearean days, female parts were played by male actors, while more recently, actresses have taken on some of his most famous male roles such as Hamlet and Julius Caesar. The gender stereotypes were very extreme back in the day. Women are not the same now as they were back in the day. Women were treated differently and perceived different compared to a guy. Shakespearean performance is an arena for exploring desire, sexuality and gender roles and for challenging audience expectations, especially when it involves a female role. Actresses have long claimed their right to be part of plays, shows, and movies. Women were thought to be a lesser being during the time of Shakespeare, but he still manages to portray them as strong, confident, and influential people, as displayed in Macbeth. 

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The view of females when Shakespeare wrote this play was that they were quiet, they were homemakers, weak and unintelligent, and that they only existed to have sexual intercourse with and to have male children. However, males were seen differently, they were perceived as the warriors and the money makers. Males were expected to “settle things like men”, which meant that the males would have to fight or duel against their opponent or enemy. It was always expected that the men be the more dominant partner in a relationship. In Macbeth, the gender roles were reversed. An example would be that, men can end up being “weak” while women can remain “strong” as shown between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is a very strange character, and often changes from masculine to feminine whenever it suits her. An example of this is when Lady Macbeth attempts to lose her womanliness once and for all when she calls on the spirits to ‘unsex’ her in Act 1 scene 5. She does this because she saw that being a woman meant that she would be defined and limited as a human being. She told the spirits to ‘Make thick my blood, stop up the access and passage to remorse’. She wanted all of her femininity to be taken away. She wants to feel no pity flowing through her veins, and she didn’t want to feel any compassion so that nothing would stop her from carrying out the murder of the king. Lady Macbeth also says that the spirits must ‘Take my (breast)milk for gall’ which is symbolizing that she will swap femininity for bitterness. This seems to work because Lady Macbeth seems to be the force behind Macbeth. He used the same argument that Lady Macbeth used against him earlier on in the play, saying that anyone can be described as a man, ‘As hounds and greyhounds, mongrels, spaniels, curs, shoughs, water-rugs, and demi-wolves, are clept all by the name of dogs’ but when they become assassins, they can then be described as real men. This feeds the murderers hatred and incites them to kill Banquo. During the initial acts, Lady Macbeth is introduced with the sense of dominance and power over her husband, Macbeth, which is not the stereotypical trait for a woman. Lady Macbeth would be considered the man of the relationship because she is in power and she calls him a “coward”, and being a coward is not considered a manly trait. The two people that use gender roles most are Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. 

Both of them associate the male gender with killing and death and female gender with doing no harm and being peaceful. They use the idea of masculinity and femininity for their own purposes, such as to persuade others to obey their plans and to justify their own actions. Gender roles were perceived differently by many people. During Shakespeare’s time, England was being ruled by Queen Elizabeth I. Even though it was a patriarchal government, there were very rigid views on men and women. In order to become ‘manly’ you would have to be bold, daring aggressive, and strong. While women were seen as, fearful, weak, pitiful, and soft. Elizabethans viewed men and women to be something that they have to be. These views have changed over time as women have risen to power and have overcome these stereotypes and have proven them wrong just as Lady Macbeth has. In the play, Macbeth, gender stereotypes in Macbeth are seen differently than they are seen nowadays. Men and women were treated differently based on their gender. Men were expected to be a certain way and so were the women. Gender stereotypes played a major role in Macbeth because the stereotypes were proved wrong. It showed that women can be strong just like a man and that men can be considered weak just like a woman. These gender stereotypes have changed significantly now. Women now have rights that they did not have back then, such as vote, receive an education, women can choose their husband, and they are no longer considered “property” of men.   

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