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Man up, Macbeth

January 03, 2022

Man up, Macbeth

Masculinity in the Scottish play


January 03, 2022

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  1. Man Up, Macbeth Masculinity in the Scottish Play

  2. We know Macbeth is a violent and bloody play

  3. With a high body count and and an odd sense

    of insult (“What, you egg!”? Really? That’s what you say when you stab a child?) Image courtesy of Good Tickle Brain https://goodticklebrain.com/home/2015/8/2/the-macbeth-death-clock
  4. And that violence defines a particular type of nobility in

    the drama—Macbeth is valorous for “unseam[ing]” a villain “from the nave to the chaps” and Duncan tells a bleeding Sergeant: “thy words become thee as thy wounds;/They smack of honour both.” Still from Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015)
  5. But does the undeniably bloody play equate violence with masculinity?

    Is the first rule of being King of Scotland that you do not talk about being King of Scotland? Still from David Fincher’s adaptation of Fight Club (1999)
  6. Lady Macbeth, who speaks of nothing but her husband being

    king, clearly equates violence with masculinity— frequently in a fashion intended to shame the reluctant man into action. John Singer Sargent’s painting of Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth (1889)
  7. Lady Macbeth: Unsexed to be “Mortal” Contemplating the treachery necessary

    to secure her husband’s ascension to the throne, she cries out: Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood. Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse, That no compunctious visitings of nature Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between Th’ effect and it. Come to my woman’s breasts And take my milk for gall (Act I, Scene V) Convinced that it is men who are inherently violent, cruel, and without remorse, Lady Macbeth asks to be “unsexed” when “tending” the murder of Duncan.
  8. Macbeth, the hero of the battlefield, does not initially share

    his wife’s conviction. Recounting Duncan’s manifold virtues in order to counter his own (and his wife’s) violent ambition, Macbeth rejoins: “Prithee, peace./I dare do all that may become a man” (Act I, Scene VII). Image from the California Shakespeare’s 2019 production of Macbeth https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/09/26/review-new-macbeth-at-cal-shakes-both-bloody-and-bland/
  9. Lady Macbeth vigorously disagrees And wins the argument with this

    speech: What beast was ’t then, That made you break this enterprise to me? When you durst do it, then you were a man; And to be more than what you were, you would Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place Did then adhere, and yet you would make both. They have made themselves, and that their fitness now Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me. I would, while it was smiling in my face, Have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums And dashed the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this. (Act I, Scene VII) Effectively countering what she considers Macbeth’s fatal flaw, a nature “too full o’ the milk of human kindness” (Act I, Scene V).
  10. The conversation in the lingua franca of our era What

    she says What he thinks
  11. If Lady Macbeth were correct in her assumptions (and actions),

    though, she would not be driven mad with guilt. Karen Aldridge as Lady Macbeth in the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s 2009 production
  12. Her “unsexed” and unchecked violence may be ‘unnatural,’ in much

    the same way the ‘bearded’ Weird Sisters are. . . Alexandre-Marie Colin’s “The Three Witches from Macbeth (1827)
  13. But her amoral ambition is a more to blame for

    her sad fate than her adoption of what she considers male characteristics. She errs in equating masculinity with cruelty and in assuming that her base desires justify the cruel treatment of others. Ray Fearon and Tara Fitzgerald Iqban Khan’s production of Macbeth at the Globe Theatre in 2018
  14. And how do we know that masculinity, and its admirable

    traits, is not inherently cruel or unkind? Macduff Christopher Walken as Lt. Ernie McDuff in the delightfully wacky contemporary adaptation of Macbeth, entitled Scotland, PA (2001)
  15. Macduff’s manly sensibility (Act IV, Scene III) Told of the

    murder of all his “pretty ones,” the grieving husband and father is urged by Malcolm to “Dispute it like a man.” Macduff’s response is to say that he will do so, but he “must also feel it as a man,” as he “cannot but remember such things that were most precious to” him. Uninterested in performances of feeling, Macduff tells Malcolm he could “play the braggart with[his] tongue” just as surely as he could ”the woman with [his] eyes”—what occupies him are authentic and honest emotions. He is a man—a truly noble man—who mourns his loss of his family.
  16. Macduff may be an “unnatural” character, “not of woman born,”

    yet it is he who avenges Duncan and restores moral order in the play. Because he is the man Macbeth could have been, and indeed was, before ambition blinded him: a heroic warrior “full o’ the milk of human kindness.” This is the reason why Macduff, and Macduff alone, renders the fierce Macbeth a coward—he truly is “the better part of man.” (Act V, Scene VIII) Still from Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015)
  17. Does this mean that Macbeth is a thoroughly modern play

    that represents a version of masculinity free from all that could be considered “toxic”? Not necessarily. The play offers an account of a warrior culture that lionizes “good” deaths in battle. The “damn spot” that must “out” is dishonor, not the use of (male) violence to achieve desirable ends. Still from Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015)
  18. Women can be strong and forceful, and men can be

    devoted husbands who defer to their wives. Neither should murder a wise and good ruler for personal gain. That is what is “unnatural” and dishonorable in this play. Still from Justin Kurzel’s Macbeth (2015)
  19. Regarding men committing violence in the play: fair can be

    foul and foul can be fair. Sometimes bloodshed is heroic and eloquent; other times is is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” What matters is the intention of the “poor player,/That frets and struts his hour upon the stage.” The Simpsons: “Four Great Women and a Manicure” (2009)
  20. Out, out, brief candle! This PowerPoint is heard no more