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Macbeth Gender Quotes

How we cite our quotes: (Act.Scene.Line) from the Folger Shakespeare Library

Quote #1

                             You should be women,
And yet your beards forbid me to interpret
That you are so. (1.3.47-49)

"Should" be: why? Because they look like women, or because they're obviously supernatural? And does the presence of a beard automatically disqualify someone from being a woman? (Don't tell the moustache-bleaching industry.)

Quote #2

I'll drain him dry as hay.
Sleep shall neither night nor day
Hang upon his penthouse lid.
He shall live a man forbid.
Weary sev'nnights, nine times nine,
Shall he dwindle, peak, and pine.
Though his bark cannot be lost,
Yet it shall be tempest-tossed. (1.3.19-26)

Here, the First Witch says that she's going to punish a sailor's wife by "drain[ing] [the sailor] dry as hay," which means that she's going to make the sailor impotent: no children, and no sex. Macbeth is definitely worried about male impotence—even Lady Macbeth makes a jab at her husband about it. Is that just a low blow, or does Macbeth actually associate sexual potency with masculinity?

Quote #3

Glamis thou art, and Cawdor, and shalt be
What thou art promised. Yet do I fear thy nature; 
It is too full o' th' milk of human kindness
To catch the nearest way. Thou wouldst be great,
Art not without ambition, but without
The illness should attend it.
                          Hie thee hither,
That I may pour my spirits in thine ear
And chastise with the valoor of my tongue
All that impedes thee from the golden round,
Which fate and metaphysical aid doth seem
 To have thee crowned withal. (1.5.15-20;28-33)

According to Lady Macbeth, her husband is ambitious, but he's also too "kind" to do what it takes to murder Duncan so that he, Macbeth, can be king. So what's a wife to do? Lady Macbeth plans to "chastise" Macbeth with the "valour of [her] tongue," which is another way of saying she's going to nag her husband into taking action so he can be "crown'd withal." This speech establishes Lady Macbeth as the dominant partner in the relationship, which inverts typical 17th century gender and social roles. Since husbands were supposed to "rule" their wives in the same way that kings ruled countries, Lady Macbeth's plan is just another version of treason: taking power that doesn't belong to you.

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