Gordon Filworth in Education and Training, Literatura, Historia Mar 17, 2020 · 2 min read · +100

Problematization of Female Power in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

The concept of female power and feminism is relatively new in the developed world. It is true that there have been strong female leaders in society going back to Elizabeth the First and Catherine the Great, and many essays have been written on them. The idea of feminism, however, really didn’t come around until the early twentieth century when women mobilized as a group to “get the vote”.

Today’s modern society still looks for a sample of female power and feminism in every corner of history, however. That doesn’t mean that they walk away disappointed every time, but it does mean that they usually discover that it simply didn’t exist in quite the same way back then.

Problematization of Female Power in Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Much the same is true of Shakespeare’s plays. One can find some strong female characters, but for every Lady Macbeth, there’s a Kate Minola waiting somewhere in the wings.

There’s Power in Murder

Lady Macbeth is a character who seems to be the real one in charge at the beginning of the play. When it comes to Macbeth encountering the three witches who prophesize that he will become king, he pauses at the thought, uncertain if he wants or deserves to be King of Scotland.

He sends word of the King’s imminent visit to their castle and the witches’ prediction. Unlike her husband, Lady Macbeth is in earnest at the prospect of becoming queen and urges her husband to take advantage of the visit and kill the king, a task which, once goaded, he completes.

Now, Lady Macbeth is the person who pushes her husband to murder, but does that mean that this an example of female power in one of William Shakespeare’s plays? You can see it here for yourself with essay examples because that assertion would be problematic for any person to prove beyond a doubt.


The Play’s the Thing

This famous author got Macbeth from other sources, but also came up with many of his own ideas. What is consistent across many of them, and has been proven with many essay examples, is that women are not portrayed as strong women, and if they are, that strength and independence in soon stomped out of them.

Juliet in Romeo and Juliet is a character whose primary raison-d’etre appears to be to fall in love with Romeo. She is love-struck and spends much of the play pining after her dear Romeo, but never really shows any “female power” at any point in the play.

The character of Ophelia in Hamlet seems to have no other purpose but to love him, be driven mad, and then drown herself in a duck pond. Sorry, no female power here.

The only strong independent woman who appears in Shakespeare’s plays is the character of Kate from the Taming of the Shrew. What was considered to be a comedy at the time is reviled as sexist and misogynistic today, and for a good reason!

Kate is independently minded, thinks for herself and openly defies her husband, and other men, whenever she feels like it. So, what happens to her? She’s starved and humiliated until she falls in line.

The Problem with Power in a Play

Although it is true that Lady Macbeth is one of the stronger female roles we’ve seen for a woman in Shakespeare, she’s also one of the most tragic. She might be the person who pushes her husband to murder for power, but it’s not long afterwards that she suffers the ill gains from their terrible deed.

Indeed, as the play progresses, Lady Macbeth can’t live with the guilt of what she has done. While sleepwalking, she repeatedly tries to get rid of an imaginary spot of blood on her hand. It’s this guilt that results in a descent into madness, which in turn, results in her suicide taking place off-stage.

What’s of equal importance is that it’s Macbeth, himself, who becomes arrogant and power-hungry, not his wife. It’s that same insatiable lust for power that proves his undoing where he is killed by Macduff in battle, but it’s Macbeth who wields power, not his wife.

Female Power?

In the end, the idea of female power in Macbeth is problematic at best. Lady Macbeth might start off as a strong female character, but madness and suicide are what she’s rewarded with. It’s Macbeth who benefits the most during the play, becoming king and wielding great power, even if it’s only for a short time.

Sadly, this is part of an ongoing theme evidenced by Shakespeare’s other plays, like Hamlet and The Taming of the Shrew. Looking for Female Power in Macbeth? It’s best to look elsewhere.