Monday, November 26, 2012

Sexuality in Macbeth vs Hamlet

       In our discussion of Hamlet, we talked about the sexuality of Gertrude-someone who was overly sexual - and how it was a threat to Hamlet.   Not only did Gertrude marry Claudius, Hamlet's uncle, after his father died, it might have caused Hamlet to question his own legitimacy.  In Act IV of Macbeth, I saw a few references to sexuality as well.  The first reference was in Act IV, scene i, when the witches added a strange and gruesome ingredient to the evil charm they were making: a "Finger of birth-strangled babe / Ditch-delivered by a drab" (4.1, 30-31).  When I was reading this, I was reading the "No-Fear" version, which translates this to "the finger of a baby that was strangled as a prostitute gave birth to it in a ditch."  Not only is this horrendous, I believe it also hints to "inappropriate" female sexuality.  The baby was the child of a prostitute - a pretty clear example of inappropriate sexuality - and therefore the woman probably had no idea whose child it was.  This symbol was part of the recipe to make an evil charm by the witches, and that makes me think it's something that was considered to be bad.  (On a side note, it's times like these that I'm thankful for  the "No Fear" series.  Had I read this without it, I wouldn't know what a "drab" was and would therefore have probably overlooked this interesting little addition.) 

     More clearly an example of thoughts on sexuality in this act of Macbeth, however, comes up during Malcolm's talk with Macduff in scene iii of Act IV.  In their discussion of Macbeth, it's clear that they both do not think too highly of him.  One part, however, stood out to me.  Malcolm says these lines to Macduff:
"It is myself I mean, in whom I know
All the particulars of vice so grafted
That, when they shall be opened, black Macbeth
Will seem as pure as snow, and the poor state
Esteem him as a lamb, being compared
With my confineless harms.
I grant him bloody,
Luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful,
Sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin
That has a name. But there’s no bottom, none,
In my voluptuousness. Your wives, your daughters,
Your matrons, and your maids could not fill up
The cistern of my lust, and my desire
All continent impediments would o'erbear
That did oppose my will. Better Macbeth
Than such an one to reign."
(4.3, 51-67)

In comparing himself to Macbeth, who he claims is guilty of every sin in the book, Malcolm believes he is worse because he has insatiable lust, "voluptuousness".  This basically says that being horribly lustful is worse than any other sin.  It is interesting when I compare it to Gertrude in Hamlet, because in Macbeth, it is a man who is guilty of being overly sexual. And yet, contrary to what I thought, he seems to punish himself worse than how Gertrude was seen.  I would think that since men had higher standing, he could get away with it.  Perhaps my idea is also tainted by current society, where it is sometimes believed to be "OK" for a man to be a player, whereas it's less acceptable for a woman to be "loose".  In Macbeth, it seems that both genders are equally punished and looked down upon for their "improper" sexuality.

(As a disclaimer, he does say that this "bad quality" is a lie, but I don't really believe that. So, here I will stick to my analysis as is. Also, whether he was lying about himself or not doesn't really matter. The thoughts on the matter are still the same.)


Amanda Wolfer said...

Wow, very cool post, I never thought of this topic before. I completely agree with you, it almost seems Shakespeare has to create some kind of deformity in women for them to be acceptable in society. In other words they cannot be normal, smart or strong like men, they have to be mentally ill or insane. In this situation, it makes women out to be prostitutes and whores. Which does make for an interesting plot but Shakespeare has a way of being somewhat sexist. I also agree with you on using the No Fear help! Without that I would be very lost!!

Cyrus Mulready said...

You raise some really fantastic points here about corrupted female sexuality, Kaitlyn, and I love your close reading of the text! We have seen many examples in this course of what we can call threatening female sexuality. It's interesting to see how it is applied to men in this play. The Macbeths, in performance, are sometimes interpreted as a highly sexualized couple. As you show here, there is good reason for seeing this in the text.