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Quotes From Macbeth and a Look at Hamlet in Exploring Gender Roles
What does it mean to be a man or a woman in today’s society? None of us can fit into a neat, small, tiny, stereotypical box based on anything, including our gender. How do we define gender and how are these roles presented in literature? Often, many of our favorite characters defy gender stereotypes and are therefore more three-dimensional, more human, and more relatable. The play of gender and society is not limited to the pages of books, but is also reflected in the literary choices of the authors themselves. Take The Outsiders as an example. Essentially a coming of age story, the characters are predominantly male and the book explores adolescence, social pressure and isolation from a male perspective. The realism of the book, the fact that it deals with teenage issues while still appealing to readers of all ages, makes it feel like a more up-to-date, more up-to-date Huckleberry Finn. Interestingly, the author, SE Hinton, was 18 years old when she wrote this book. Yes, she SE Hinton described herself as a girl and her gender did not define her writing style or her experiences. She successfully entered a terrain that is not traditionally feminine, over the boundaries of gender.
When we look at the work of William Shakespeare, we get an idea of what it was like to live during the Renaissance. In Shakespeare’s quest to write complex, three-dimensional characters, he often played with the typical gender roles of the time. In the world of Macbeth, it is made very clear that traits such as cruelty, violence, power and strength are masculine qualities, while those such as compassion, kindness and obedience are feminine. In Macbeth’s world, witches are disliked because of the “masculine” qualities they seem to possess. When Banquo says, You should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret That you are so, he is telling them that they show too many masculine qualities to be women.
Lady Macbeth, like the witches, stands out because she does not fit into the gender roles that are established in this world. However, she doesn’t let these established roles get her down. In fact, he uses stereotypes to manipulate Macbeth and convince him to murder. For Lady Macbeth it is simple biology and part of her genetic makeup: in order to murder, Macbeth must be a “man.” When he says such things as, “Glamis thou art, and Cawdor; and thou shalt be what they promised thee; but I fear thy nature; it is too full of the milk of human kindness to take the nearest way: it would be great Art not without ambition, but without Illness should attend,” basically saying that she’s too much of a woman, “too full of the milk of human kindness” to do what needs to be done. Lady Macbeth continues to emasculate him until he is beaten and committed to murder. It is also an interesting point to see that Shakespeare has made the evil qualities of the characters a feminine quality in the play. Lady Macbeth is clearly deceitful, manipulative and an instrument of evil. She is the mastermind behind all the trouble and yet in the end she ends up being the victim of “evil” as she has a mental breakdown, loses her mind and kills herself.
Macbeth and Hamlet could surely have sat down and shared a therapy session or some tears over some beers. Hamlet, who is usually considered one of Shakespeare’s most macho characters, associates all of his “weak” traits as feminine. Right from the very first scene, “The fragility they say is woman,” pretty much says it all. Hamlet beats himself up when he cannot avenge his father’s murder by pretending to be a woman. (Clearly he didn’t need Lady Macbeth to emasculate him, he was able to do it himself.)
Shakespeare may have played with and explored gender roles deeply if you consider what those roles were during his time. What gender roles do you see in literature today? In the book you are reading now, are these gender roles typical? Do you see certain behaviors in characters that are against type or assume certain characteristics based on a character’s gender?
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