Think Piece: Macbeth is Not a Feminist Play

If you were to go into a room of people with some idea of the Shakespearean play, Macbeth, and ask them to name the first female character from the play that comes to mind, most would say Lady Macbeth.
Some people with a more expansive knowledge of the play might name one of the witches or Lady Macduff, but the most common answer would be Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth is the most influential female character in Macbeth and yet, she was basically absent from the last two acts—showing just how disposable she was.
Lady Macbeth, as well as the witches, was really just there to be the villain, then disappear. And Lady Macduff was just there simply because she was Macduff’s wife. In Macbeth, all of the women are either villains or complacent to the wishes of men.
The only relevant women in the entire play are Lady Macbeth and the witches– and all of them are portrayed as the villains. The only male villain in the play is Macbeth and the way his wickedness is portrayed makes it seem that his murderousness is all derived from the deviousness of Lady Macbeth—leaving many readers cursing the name of Lady Macbeth, despite the fact that Macbeth himself chose to have all of the murders committed, while Lady Macbeth was complacent in only one before she realized the error of her ways.
And the witches’ prophecies could be blamed for how everything turned out.—one could say that Macbeth was bound by fate and he couldn’t be blamed for his actions. Though readers cannot completely fault Shakespeare for the gender of his villains, the way that they were portrayed should be judged harshly.
In Lady Macbeth’s infamous speech, she says “unsex me”. She rejects her femininity so that she can convince Macbeth to murder his relative, King Duncan. It seems that Shakespeare is driving the message that the fact that a woman trying to be the dominant one in a relationship is so unthinkable that she could barely qualify as a woman.
Additionally, Shakespeare appears to be depicting the witches like they’re not even human, as if the fact that they were willing to go against the will of the man makes them neither female nor even human.
Based on this, one may conclude that Shakespeare believed a woman’s human and feminine value is based on how well they meet the wants of a man. And a woman’s value, by his definition, is beneath a man.
This point can be further shown with the role of the only other woman in the play—Lady Macduff. In the words of The Pen And The Pad website, Lady Macduff is “a loyal, devoted mother who prioritizes the raising of her children.”
She is the only woman in the entire play who is not portrayed as a villain and her entire character identity is based on her motherhood. Many have argued that Lady Macduff is a good model of feminism because she stands up to Macduff for going to go kill Macbeth. But her argument turned out to be futile, as Macduff still continued on his quest for revenge, and she disappeared from the plot.
And the only reason she told Macduff not to murder Macbeth is because she doesn’t want him to leave their family, not because she’s concerned about what Macduff’s pursuit of vengeance could do to her husband or the bloodshed he was planning to cause. This is a careless waste of an opportunity to deepen Lady Macduff’s character by making her care about something other than mothering and it weakens her moral compass.
Lady Macduff—who is displayed as the model wife and mother of the play—tries to make her feelings known to her husband before she is put into her place and disappears from the play, showing that to be a proper woman you should be complacent to the needs of a man.
Lady Macbeth is the only female in the play with a character arc. Lady Macbeth is a cruel, manipulative villain who rejects her femininity to bend the wishes of her husband, Macbeth, and convince him to kill Duncan. But after Duncan is murdered, Lady Macbeth begins to find herself going mad and feels incredible guilt over the death of the king.
When Macbeth tells her of his plan to assassinate Banquo, she pleads with him to stop the cycle of violence, but he does not listen. Instead, he pulls her into his plan for Banquo by having her try to make Banquo welcome.
It is at that moment that the roles are switched, Macbeth becomes dominant and Lady Macbeth becomes submissive. It could also be noted that after this point in the play, Lady Macbeth begins doing certain things to simply “fulfill” her role as a wife, such as being the hostess of the party in Act III.
And when Act IV comes around, Lady Macbeth is rarely present. This goes for Act V as well. Despite being the most complex woman in the play, Lady Macbeth only served two purposes to the plot, being the villain that begins Macbeth on his cycle of bloodshed and being the submissive wife that allows the audience to know that Macbeth has become dominant.
In conclusion, the women in Macbeth are only there to be the ruthless villains or the submissive wives. The witches and Lady Macbeth are portrayed as evil because they go against the wishes of the men.
And Shakespeare heavily implies that he believes that the quality that makes a woman a woman is her submissiveness to man through the description of the witches and Lady Macbeth’s famous monologue.
Lady Macduff is the only good-hearted female in the play and her only trait is being an amenable wife and mother. And Lady Macbeth’s character arc is simply her going from the dominant to the dominated in her relationship with Macbeth.