“the Serpent Under’t”: the Manipulation of Gender Performance and the Gendered Body by Shakespeare’s Volumnia and Lady Macbeth

In: English and Literature

Submitted By kelseyracich
Words 2146
Pages 9
“The Serpent Under’t”: The Manipulation of Gender Performance and the Gendered Body by Shakespeare’s Volumnia and Lady Macbeth

In both Coriolanus and Macbeth, powerful women exploit their power over important male figures through their manipulation of gender roles and performance. In “Identity-Formation and the Breastfeeding Mother in Renaissance Generative Discourses and Shakespeare’s Coriolanus,” Victoria Sparey compares the symbolic relevance of breast milk and blood in Shakespearean literature to explain the immense power Volumnia holds over her son Coriolanus. Ralph Berry argues the sexual motivation behind Volumnia’s control in his article “Sexual Imagery in Coriolanus.” Berry states that “from Volumnia, we derive a strong impression of the interlinked impulses of sex and power” (316). Lady Macbeth’s character and influence over her husband is explored thoroughly in William T. Liston’s "Male and Female Created He Them": Sex and Gender in "Macbeth." Liston outlines the ways Lady Macbeth manipulates both her husband’s masculinity and her own femininity to achieve her personal ambitions. Although Sparey and Berry examine the motives and character of Volumnia and Liston recounts the ambitious incentives of Lady Macbeth, this paper will focus on the performance of gender and how it is used to manipulate the masculine body, the feminine body, and to overcome the societal boundaries set out for individuals at the time of Shakespeare’s writing. Using Judith Butlers concept of gender performativity, Volumnia and Lady Macbeth break their roles as the proper wife and mother and shift their gender in accordance to their current situations. The women are cunning and ambitious heroines who are able to manipulate their male counterpart to achieve their goals which they could not otherwise do as women in an extremely patriarchal society.

Volumnia and Lady Macbeth are…...

Similar Documents

Macbeth

...Macbeth- Shakespeare Caroline Rebry January 8, 2010 Mr. Salciccioli In the Shakespearean story Macbeth, the character Lady Macbeth, Macbeth’s wife, is one of Shakespeare’s most forcefully drawn female characters he has ever created. Lady Macbeth suffers none of her husband’s uncertainty. She desires the kingship for him and wants him to murder Duncan in order to obtain it. She is one of the only characters in the play that could persuade Macbeth the way she does. Her sly and cunning plans lead Macbeth to fulfill her desires of becoming King and Queen. As well, her incredible mind tricks cause her husband to continue to achieve their goal as becoming King and Queen. Considering the relationship between cause and effect in the play, Lady Macbeth, through her manipulation, deceptiveness, and mind games, is one of the characters who is more responsible for Macbeth’s crimes in the play.  When we first meet Lady Macbeth, she is already plotting Duncan’s murder, and she is stronger, more ruthless, and more ambitious than her husband. She seems fully aware of this and knows that she will have to push Macbeth into committing murder. Lady Macbeth manipulates her husband with remarkable effectiveness, overriding all his objections; when he hesitates to murder, she repeatedly questions his manhood until he feels that he must commit murder to prove himself. Lady Macbeth questions,  Was the hope drunk Wherein......

Words: 1153 - Pages: 5

Macbeth & Lady Macbeth

...The Marriage/relationship of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth Macbeth and his wife become partners in crime. And they are truly partners in the deepest meaning of the word, because the roles are quite obvious with Lady Macbeth being the mind behind the crimes and Macbeth putting her plan into live. Lady’s Macbeth words gave Macbeth the courage not only to kill his first victim, but also to keep fighting for not exposing the truth of Duncan’s death. Besides that, she is the one too take control in the most crucial decisions. Thanks to her powerful ambition, she orders her husband to step on and fight for his own ambitions too, of keeping the tittle as a king. In the begging she takes a lot of responsibility and initiative in their relationship, fx. by making all the decisions, but that changes in the end, cause unfortunately the role of the man was not to handle for Lady Macbeth, because uncertain of her own future, she commits suicide, which was the easiest way to deal with the problems for her. But Macbeth chooses to continue the devastation, unlike his wife who chosed a tragic death. Also Macbeths death is much more different than his wife’s, because he decides to die as a soldier, on the battlefield. Macbeth is a brave warrior and a great general, but unfortunately without much influence on his wife. The couple is united in their crimes, their ambitions, their madness and also their (fremmedgørelse) alienation from the society. We don't really get to see their, deep......

Words: 303 - Pages: 2

Macbeth

...Blind Leading the Blind In MacBeth, Shakespeare writes about a greedy, power-hungry man who murders the king to fulfill his selfish desires. MacBeth was one of King’s Duncan’s noblemen and honorable general. However, after he is claimed as the Thane of Cawdor and Glamis, he believes a prophecy by three witches that he will become King and, along with his wife, decides to murder King Duncan in an attempt to gain more power. Although MacBeth grew uncertain about going through with the assassination, his wife, Lady MacBeth, manipulates and deceives him to follow through. As a king, he becomes a tyrant and starts to kill anyone who he felt threatened his position on the throne, including one of his good friends, Banquo and the family of MacDuff. Throughout his reign, the MacBeth’s guilty consciences take a toll on them and eventually lead to both of their downfall. Furthermore, MacBeth’s reign does not last long when MacDuff gets revenge against the tormentor by killing him in the end. As a result, King Duncan’s son, Malcolm, becomes king. Through the use of symbolism and characterization, William Shakespeare, in MacBeth, depicts how one’s desire to gain power causes others to change gender roles to create deception within an environment. In MacBeth, MacBeth’s horrific murders proved how strongly he desired to gain power. Desire means to have a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen. When a person desires something, he or she......

Words: 2516 - Pages: 11

Lady Macbeth

...Macbeth: Lady MacBeth Lady MacBeth is one of Shakespeare's greatest and most intriguing female characters. She is evil, seductive, and witch-like all at the same time. However, during the play we see her in two different ways. At the time when we first meet her, she is a brutally violent, power wanting witch, and later on she turns to a shameful suicidal grieving woman. At the beginning of the MacBeth, Lady MacBeth is very savage and vicious. She thinks nothing of killing King Duncan. She has no sense of what is wrong and right, and believes that it is perfectly moral to do the deed of murder. She states that to not go through with the deed would be horrible to yourself, and that you would be a coward in your own eyes. "Wouldst thou have that which thou esteem'st the ornament of life, and live a coward in thine own esteem," She states that if she was MacBeth and did not jump at this perfect opportunity, that if a child, being fed at her breast, where as Duncan is, king, she would tear it from her and "dash'd the brains out" to have the opportunity MacBeth does. This shows how mad and sadistic she was. She had absolutely no self- conscience, and thought nothing about the wrong they were soon to commit. Later on, after the murders, she, unlike MacBeth, still shows no signs of a conscience. She is very cool and collected, while MacBeth......

Words: 598 - Pages: 3

Lady Macbeth

...Lady Macbeth is a fascinating character in the famous play written by William Shakespeare entitled Macbeth. Lady Macbeth has a multi faceted personality because one side of her character is contemptible, determined and rude while the other side is extremely fearful and hesitant. One of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, Lady Macbeth is known for manipulating her husband to commit the murder of king Duncan and thereby making her an active participant in the crime. Ambition is one of her most prominent traits; She will do anything to become queen and eventually she does but the thing about Lady Macbeth is that she has a conscience, even though she regards it as a weakness. The regret she feels about convincing her husband kill the king, the representative of God on earth, is eventually her demise. The first appearance of Lady Macbeth is in Act 1 Scene 5. At the beginning of the play she is violent and ambitious. She wants King Duncan dead so she can be the Queen and her husband the king. She craves power and control. Lady Macbeth is extremely controlling and uses any means necessary to eventually achieving her goal of getting her husband to murder the king. She states“, “were you not a man when you broke this enterprise to me”(1,7,47-48). Her ability to manipulate her husband eventually changes his mind and he goes ahead and kills Duncan. Lady Macbeth is willing to lie and compromise her integrity if she can get what she wants. Lady Macbeth questions her husband’s......

Words: 803 - Pages: 4

Shakespeare's Macbeth

...As you all already know, Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a tale about the power struggles among the elite. But what makes Macbeth so compelling is its incredible insights into how blind power can make a person to moral reason and common sense. This “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” and this “unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it” according to John Acton and William Pitt. By examining the men and women of great power in Macbeth, we get a glimpse into how easily susceptible they are to the corruptibility of power. They suffer the same feelings as us, especially the unrelenting ambition of men, and now women have become victims to in contemporary society. It is against this backdrop, that I will produce a modern rendition of Macbeth that will challenge the audience to contemplate the ever-growing feminist society of the present day. To accomplish this, I will be shifting the focus of my directorial debut away from the many linear adaptations of Macbeth littered throughout the film industry with revisions featuring little to no deviation to its original source by producing a character that brings to the fore the reputable role of the puppet-master that females are renown for in contemporary society. This will be achieved through the depiction of the female’s ability to use her wit to cunningly manipulate the opposite sex, no longer mere accessories to men in this current age. Through alterations to the original play,......

Words: 1842 - Pages: 8

Lady Macbeth

...Lady Macbeth found via Google - not my own work In typical Shakespearean tragedies, female main characters aren't always treated brilliantly. In Hamlet, Ophelia goes down the "I shall obey, my lord" route. In Othello, Desdemona goes down the "To you I am bound" route. Yet in Macbeth, this isn't quite the case. The most important female figure is Lady Macbeth, a cunning and manipulative woman who is associated with the supernatural. Instantly it can be argued that Lady Macbeth fits in with the later idea of certain Gothic women being 'sinister predators', or 'femme fatales'. | Dame Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth | Lady Macbeth has been the subject of much debate for hundreds of years. Her role in the play is incredibly important and she is the subject of various interpretations. Her first appearance in the play is in act one, scene five. She opens by reading Macbeth's letter; instantly this seems to present her as a typical Shakespearean woman (when I say typical, I mean typical in terms of main female characters in tragedies being passive), since her first words are that of her husband's, as though she is bound to him. Then she stops reading the letter, and we start to realise that she isn't at all typical. She instantly states that Macbeth will be "what thou art promised", which shows a determination and strength of will that we may not have been expecting. She goes on to criticise her husband's nature, since he is "too full o'th'milk of human kindness". A wife...

Words: 2312 - Pages: 10

Analyse and Compare How Lady Macbeth and Curley's Wife Are Presented Shakespeare’s ' Macbeth' and Steinbeck’s ‘of Mice and Men’

...Celton Brito-Lobato Analyse and compare how Lady Macbeth and Curley's wife are presented Shakespeare’s ' Macbeth' and Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ In the Shakespearean play of ‘Macbeth’ we are introduced to the character of Lady Macbeth. Similarly in John Steinbeck's novella Of Mice of Men we also presented with an equally diverse character of Curley's wife. ‘Macbeth’ was written during the early 17th century, and was a play 'fit for a king'. It outlines a couple's ambition to become rulers of Scotland and sees them fulfil this ambition and in doing so, killing the king in the process. Despite being written during patriarchal Jacobean society, Lady Macbeth is a female protagonist. Throughout the play, through Lady Macbeth's actions we are forced to believe that she is evil. In contrast, in the novel John Steinbeck tells a story of dreams, hopes and loneliness. We are introduced to a majorly significant and complex character, named Curley’s wife. Steinbeck shows us that Curley’s wife is flirtatious, mischievous (despite the patriarchal society of the 1930’s) but most of all she is an isolated character. Her hasty marriage to Curley proves to be failed attempt to escape her own spiral of disappointment of not fulfilling her ambition of becoming an actress. This ironically is a main theme in both texts. This essay will analyse and compare the presentation of Lady Macbeth and Curley's wife through structure, themes, what is said about them, their actions and what they......

Words: 2335 - Pages: 10

Lady Macbeth

...demise. Macbeth is a tragic hero. "What he hath lost noble Macbeth hath won"(1.2.70). This shows that Macbeth becomes the new Thane of Cawdor, just like the witches had told him. As Macbeth starts to believe the prophecies of the witches that he will be the Thane of Cawdor, Glamis, and the King, he starts to want it even more. He has the ambition to do what he wants. " Stars, hide your fires;/Let not light see my black and deep desires"(1.4.50-51). This great ambition will turn into the flaw that hurtles Macbeth to his demise. Outside forces contribute to Macbeth's downfall. "Speak" "Demand" "We'll answer" (4.1.63-65). Macbeth is asking the witches for more prophecies. The tragic hero is generally a person of importance in society."He bade me, from him, call thee Thane of Cawdor"(1.3.104-105). Macbeth has been given the title "Thane of Cawdor". Macbeth's ambition also influenced his declining character. Lady Macbeth convinced him that murder is the easiest way to fulfill his ambition to become king. Macbeth agrees although he is scared that his nerve will fail."If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well/It were done quickly(1.7.1-2)". Ambition is also seen in act one. "We fail? But screw your courage to the striking place, find we'll not fail."(1.7.59-61). Lady Macbeth does not want Macbeth to fail at murdering Duncan. After these recent murders, Macbeth doesn't need to be influenced by anyone and takes matters into his own hands, making his own decisions. Macbeth has......

Words: 817 - Pages: 4

Lady Macbeth

...Alana jones Throughout society women were considered to be second class citizens who were expected to obey their husbands, stereotypically they were seen as the weaker sex and insecure. Women were also socially neglected, as they were expected to remain at home whilst their respective husbands ensured the upkeep of the family by managing the family finances. The male population at this point in time ignorantly viewed women as, innocent people, seemingly unaware that women had the same feelings and emotions as themselves. In the literature studied women are portrayed in a more dominant and powerful people. For instance Lady Macbeth would not be your typical Elizabethan woman. Steinbeck`s Of Mice And Men was influenced by its social, historical and cultural context. `all the main characters in Of Mice And Men and men acknowledge, at one point or another, to envisaging a different and better life. Before her death, Curley`s wife confesses her desire to be in the movies. However, Steinbeck`s view of the harsh reality of 1930s America is alluded to before the story begins: circumstances have robbed most of the characters of these dreams before they could become reality. Curley`s wife for instance, has resigned to being married to someone she doesn’t love. What makes all of these dreams typically American is that the dreamers wish for perfect happiness. Steinbeck presents Curley`s wife in many different ways throughout the text. Overall, we should consider how Steinbeck......

Words: 1915 - Pages: 8

Lady Macbeth

...Macbeth was written in roughly 1606 during the Elizabethan times. During this period, people’s beliefs where different and influential in comparison to the ones we know today. Religion back then was a very big influence; even more so than it is today. It even went to the extent that people believed that if they where to sin, they would go straight to hell upon their own death. Another big influence on people (quite similar to religion) is superstition. Witches especially where a big superstition during the Shakespearian period, they were seen as evil an unholy. Whether or not it was Shakespeare’s intension while writing the play, he created controversy within the audience by integrating scenes that go against religion and the foundation of society- like when Macbeth confronted the witches and partook in an unholy ritual for his personal gain. In Shakespearian times, women were seen as the fairer sex and an accessory to men, which was why it was so unusual for the public audience when Shakespeare presented ‘Macbeth’. It portrays the only female character in the play as having power and influence which women back then where not supposed to have. Women should be powerless and gentle whereas Lady Macbeth is shown to be in control. Shakespeare’s characterization of lady Macbeth was genius because people did not know whether to sympathise or detest her. At some points in the play she was depicted as vulnerable which made you understand her situation and feel sorry for......

Words: 735 - Pages: 3

The Manipulative Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare's Macbeth

...Lady Macbeth is one of William Shakespeare’s most famous and frightening female characters. As she is Macbeth’s wife, her role is significant in his rise and fall from royalty. She is Macbeth’s other half. During Shakespearean times, women were regarded as weak insignificant beings that were there to give birth and look beautiful. They were not thought to be as intelligent or equal to men. Though in Shakespeare's play, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is the highest influence in Macbeth’s life. Her role was so large; in fact, that she uses her position to gain power, stay strong enough to support her unstable Lord, and fails miserably while their relationship falls apart. Everything about Lady Macbeth is enough to create the perfect villain because of her ability to manipulate everyone around her. It appears that even she can’t resist the perfect crime. Lady Macbeth is a dominant character as soon as she is introduced into the play. A.C. Bradley wrote about her as “…the most commanding and perhaps the most awe-inspiring figure that Shakespeare drew” from his article titled Lecture X. She became a image known for her ambitious nature. Her thirst for power and disregard for life was shocking to the audience, as to her own husband. The moment she learns of the prophecies, she decides to stand behind Macbeth and see him to the throne. She is immediately set on her quest for more power. As it reads “Glamis thou art, and Cowador, and shalt be/ What thou art promised (1.5.13-14) This moment......

Words: 1388 - Pages: 6

Deceit and Betrayal in Shakespeare's Macbeth

...Deceit and Betrayal in Shakespeare's Macbeth Shakespeare's play "Macbeth" is considered one of his great tragedies. The play fully uses plot, character, setting, atmosphere, diction and imagery to create a compelling drama. The general setting of Macbeth is tenth and eleventh century Scotland. The play is about a once loyal and trusted noble of Scotland who, after a meeting with three witches, becomes ambitious and plans the murder of the king. After doing so and claiming the throne, he faces the other nobles of Scotland who try to stop him. In the play, Macbeth faces an internal conflict with his opposing decisions. On one hand, he has to decide of he is to assassinate the king in order to claim his throne. This would result in his death for treason if he is caught, and he would also have to kill his friend. On the other hand, if he is to not kill him, he may never realize his ambitious dreams of ruling Scotland. Another of his internal struggles is his decision of killing his friend Banquo. After hiring murderers to kill him, Macbeth begins to see Banquo's ghost which drives him crazy, possibly a result of his guilty conscience. Macbeth's external conflict is with Macduff and his forces trying to avenge the king and end Macbeth's reign over Scotland. One specific motif is considered the major theme, which represents the overall atmosphere throughout the play. This motif is "fair is foul and foul is fair." In the first scene of the first act, three witches plan their...

Words: 852 - Pages: 4

Lady Macbeth and Curley's Wife

...kindness 3. Unsex me here 4. Make thick my blood 5. To beguile the time 6. Face my thane is a book 7. Night’s great business into my dispatch 8. Out damned spot! William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ and John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ written in the 17th and 20th century, separated by hundreds of years of development and change within the world, both reflect the ideologies, treatment and representations of women in their respective eras. The principal feminine representatives are Lady Macbeth and Curley’s wife who throughout both texts demonstrate similarities and differences in their portrayal of their relationships with their male counterpart, the description of their tragic deaths and the conventional role of men and women and how they fit or break the stereotype. In this essay, I will refer to the aforementioned depictions, analysing the techniques the writers use to create their characters, and how a Jacobean audience, one during the Great Depression of the 1930s and a modern audience would react. Rather than supporting her husband in a subservient manner, Shakespeare makes Lady Macbeth the ruthless mastermind of a fiendish, venal and daring enterprise aimed to ensure her husband would ‘catch the nearest way’. In Act 1 Scene 5, when attempting to convince Macbeth to commit this necessary deed, she utters the heartless words ‘you shall put this night's great business into my dispatch’ inferring she intends to commit Duncan's murder herself.......

Words: 1332 - Pages: 6

Lady Macbeth

...force behind any successful man. However, a woman can also use her strong influence in a negative way. This can be seen in Macbeth, where Lady Macbeth is the evil force behind Macbeth's cruelty and evil doings. In Shakespeare's Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is the main reason that Macbeth is transformed from a noble, respected Thane into a ruthless, murderous character. Lady Macbeth fuels his inner desire for power and brings forth his greed and ambition, which both eventually lead to his downfall. The tactics that Lady Macbeth use to drive her husband to this downfall are manipulation, dominance, and her evil nature. Lady Macbeth manipulates Macbeth into believing that he is a coward and a bad husband, which persuades him to agree to the murder of King Duncan. She dwells on the fact that he is a coward, when she says "My hands are of your colour, but I shame/ to wear a heart so white" (2.2.64-65). This instills feelings of embarrassment into his mind, and manipulates him into believing that if he does not murder King Duncan, he will be a weak, cowardly man. Not only is she challenging his manhood, by appearing to be the stronger and braver of the two, but also, by calling his heart "white", she is criticizing his cowardice. The fact that his wife is undermining his masculinity causes Macbeth to want to be stronger, and not to appear weak and timid. When Lady Macbeth yells "Infirm of purpose! Give me the daggers. The sleeping and the dead/ are but as pictures. 'Tis the eye of......

Words: 1135 - Pages: 5