In order to get her way, Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband to kill by questioning his manhood. As she questions Macbeth, “Art thou afeard to be the same in thine own act and valour as thou art in desire?” (1.7.39-41). Her technique works, and Macbeth carries out the murder. According to Macbeth, “I dare do all that may become a man; who dares do more is none” (1.7.46-47). Perhaps this portrays the significance of one’s masculinity during Shakespeare’s time. I am guessing that the male members of Shakespeare’s audience would have been able to relate to Macbeth. More than likely, just like a woman’s chastity, a man’s masculinity was extremely important. Interestingly enough, in the exact same way that Lady Macbeth provokes her husband to murder, Macbeth also instigates his hired murderers to kill Banquo by questioning their manhood. He states, “Now, if you have a station in the file, not I’th’ worst rank of manhood say’t, and I will put that business in your bosoms whose execution takes your enemy off” (3.1.103-106). This further validates my inference that one’s masculinity was highly valued during Shakespeare’s time. Similarly, as illustrated during the scene where Macduff learns of the murders of his wife and child, Malcolm consoles Macduff by encouraging him to take the news in “manly” fashion. This involves seeking revenge upon Macbeth. As Malcolm suggests to Macduff, “Dispute it like a man” (4.3.221). Macduff replies, “I shall do so. But I must also feel it as a man” (4.3.222–223).
On another note, it is evident that women are also sources of violence and evil in the play. The witches’ prophecies spark Macbeth’s ambitions, and then consequently encourage his violent behavior. Furthermore, Lady Macbeth provides the intelligence and the motive behind her husband’s plotting. Arguably, Macbeth traces the root of chaos and evil to women. Thus, perhaps this is one of Shakespeare’s most misogynistic plays. While the male characters are just as violent and prone to evil as the women, the aggression of the female characters is more striking because it goes against prevailing expectations of how women were expected to behave. As illustrated when she instigates Macbeth to kill, Lady Macbeth’s behavior certainly shows that women can be as ambitious and cruel as men. Whether it is due to the constraints of her society, or simply because she is not fearless enough to kill, Lady Macbeth relies on deception and manipulation rather than violence in order to achieve her goal. Therefore, with that said, it is difficult to understand Shakespeare’s message. Is he equating masculinity with violence, or is he validating a patriarchal society by portraying women as the source of evil? I would love to have a chat with Shakespeare about this play! It is truly a fascinating, mind-boggling piece of literature.