Unsexing the Feminine

Lady MacBeth is potentially my favorite character in MacBeth. She presents a form of masculine femininity on the stage that is akin to the portrayals of Hippolita from ‘Tis Pity She’s A Whore and Tamora from Titus Andronicus. Her sexual power and agency free her from the constraints of feminine reprise, and her treatment of her husband subverts traditional marital roles for women. Within her speech in Act I Scence V, Lady Macbeth calls upon spirits to unsex her, to fill her breasts with gall, and to stop her menstrual flow.

“Come you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here; and fill me, from the crown to the toe, top-full of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood, stop up the access and passage to remorse, that no compunctious visiting of nature shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between the effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts, and take my milk for gall…”

She essentially asks these spirits which she invokes to remove all aspects of her femininity because she seeks to gain power through the position that the witches have promised her husband. Her ability to carry out that which she fears her husband will lack the gumption to commit, Duncan’s murder, is inhibited by the constraints of her assigned gender. She maintains her feminine power through her sexuality and feigned weakness as seen through her fainting spell at the announcement of Duncan’s death, however, she presents an alternative femininity that embraces masculine power behind the shroud of feminine appearance. ┬áThe play presents the act of murdering as antithetical to femininity and therefore antithetical to the possibility of power. The desire for power and her plans to obtain said power are the main markers of her dwindling femininity that makes her threatening and forceful.

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One Response to Unsexing the Feminine

  1. Roro says:

    Lady Macbeth’s power is further complicated by the fact that she uses a proxy rather than committing the murder herself. Although she drugs Duncan’s guards and returns the daggers to the scene of the crime, she manipulates her husband to gain the ruthless result that she desires: regicide. Manipulation, especially through sexuality, is often seen as a source of woman’s power, yet Lady Macbeth uses this feminine power to participate in murder, a masculine display of power. During this part of the play, she uses feminine power for masculine gains, a dichotomy few characters would be able to balance in the way Lady Macbeth does.

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