William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” was written in 1606. Macbeth, a brave warrior, is given a prophecy by three witches that he will be king of Scotland. This news leads Macbeth to seize the throne using devious and bloody means, showing how power corrupts a man. The play establishes a theme of masculinity, which is traditionally defined by ideas of physical strength, assertiveness, loyalty and power or success. Both male and female characters exhibit these traits in deviant and heroic ways.
Macbeth is easily manipulated by his masculinity. He is a war hero who faced an army with his friend Banquo. As a result, his violent deeds are glorified by King Duncan. Once given the prophecy, however, Macbeth shows a lust for power. Ambition, typically seen as a virtuous quality, becomes his downfall as he focuses on becoming king. As Macbeth secretly kills Duncan and his close allies, his ego and paranoia drive him insane. Macbeth represents usually positive attributes of masculinity gone wrong.
While he is considered the antagonist, Macduff actually turns out to be the hero. Macduff is a faithful thane to Duncan and is suspicious about his murder. He embodies the qualities of patriotism and loyalty because he strives to make Scotland a great country. He is also vengeful after his family is slaughtered by Macbeth’s orders. Macduff gets revenge when he beheads Macbeth, thus restoring order to his country.
Macbeth’s wife shows several masculine characteristics. When Lady Macbeth hears about her husband's prophecy, she asks demonic spirits to “unsex me here,/And fill me … top-full/Of direst cruelty.” Her covetousness for power leads her to plan a brutal and violent regicide. She pushes Macbeth into murder by convincing him that he is not a man unless he kills Duncan. Shakespeare challenges readers' assumptions about femininity by having Lady Macbeth embody many masculine values.
Banquo is Macbeth’s friend and a Scottish thane. Banquo fights alongside Macbeth and is renowned for his bravery and martial skill. He is the only other character to receive a prophecy from the witches. Banquo openly challenges the witches and does not automatically believe their predictions. Though he is suspicious of Macbeth after Duncan’s murder, Banquo shows loyalty to his friend. Unfortunately, Macbeth is paranoid of Banquo and has him assassinated. Banquo's last deed of saving his son's life exemplifies his heroic loyalty.
Malcolm is King Duncan’s son and true heir to the throne. The king's murder is pinned on Malcolm, so he flees to England to build an army against Macbeth. Malcolm is a leader and is respected by his people. During a moment of weakness, he shares with Macduff his hesitance to become king, since he is lust-filled and greedy. Macduff convinces him otherwise, which inspires Malcolm to lead the army against Macbeth’s forces. When Malcolm takes his place on the throne, he shows honor to his loyal thanes by making them earls.
The Three Witches
While they do not take part in the main action, the three witches play an essential role in “Macbeth.” The witches show power in the ability to prophesy and use it to their benefit. The prophecies they give Macbeth lead him to drastic actions. The witches are given masculine features; as Banquo tells them, “You should be women,/And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/That you are so.” Their abuse of power to manipulate and their physical appearance show they too possess masculine traits.