Manliness in Macbeth, Shakespeare

1275 words (5 pages) Essay

26th May 2017 English Literature Reference this

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Manliness should not be considered a quality that can be possessed only by men. It is a set of values which can be possessed by anyone who’s determined to live as a strong, moral and free person. All of the characteristics such as strong identity and free will can be considered positive if they are in a harmony with making the community a strong unit. William Shakespeare’s Macbeth brings several characteristics which supplement the manliness, making it even a stronger ideal connected not only to the single person but to the whole community as well. In the play the king who represents the whole country is murdered by his bravest soldier Macbeth. Thus the society and the nature shake and they lose their stability. After this betraying act the other noble lords try to restore the broken order by dethroning Macbeth and his wife. In this dramatic play the author shows that “manly” means to fight for the interests of the nation and it also symbolizes the strong volition and the belief in one’s own ability to maintain control over their life. According to Shakespeare manliness means to make things right in harmony with the natural and social order.

One of Shakespeare’s ideas about manliness is the idea of the man fighting for fairness and having the strength to oppose the evil. In the play Macbeth and Lady Macbeth often times threaten the social order and shake the stability of the country. The first action which reveals which qualities are manly and which are not is the murder of King Duncan. He was a person who was naturally given the right to rule Scotland because after his assassination it is revealed that “the earth/ Was feverous and did shake” (2.3.60-2.3.61) The nature reacted to this brutal act in order to show how unmanly this action is. The king is Scotland and he represents the whole nation. Killing the leader of a community means ruining the whole community and destroying all social norms. Macbeth interfered with the rules of nature while a real man has the ability to follow the laws dictated by God and the supreme power, because they are relevant to the survival of the whole nation. A man does not have a sick ambition to break the order, as Macbeth does. In fact with every new crime something dies inside him. The Thane of Cawdor can be definitely characterized with the phrase of the witches that “Fair is foul, foul is fair.”, because he is double-faced (1.1.10). One real man would never pretend to be someone else and he would be sincere and honest. Macbeth breaks the sacred loyalty; he is a betrayer which certainly does not make him a man. Manliness characterizes only a person who is trustworthy, a person like Macduff who sacrifices his whole family in order to reestablish the peace and order in Scotland. This action requires a lot of strength which is not only physical but psychical as well. To abandon the family means putting the society as a number one priority. In general all of the people who oppose Macbeth can be considered manly. All characters who kept thinking that Duncan’s murder was a breach of the nation’s stability risk their lives in order to return the fairness. Young Siward “has paid a soldier’s debt: / only lived but till he was a man;” which shows that they are very selflessly devoted to succeed (5.8.39-5.8.40). Another thing that this quote shows is that in Macbeth’s society even the children are taught that saving of community’s strength is a major moral value. Previously Macbeth was also considered selfless, as he “nev’r shook hands, nor bade farewell to him (Macdonwald),/ Till he unseamed him from the nave to th’ chops,” (1.2.21-1.2.22). Maybe he was also taught in such a way as Siward’s son. It seems that as the play goes on Macbeth transforms from a person who fights the betrayers to a person who becomes a betrayer. The Thane of Cawdor is not a real “man”, because he opposes the natural order and he also does not posses steadfastness.

Another characteristic of manliness is not to succumb to the influence of other people, which can make a person do rash things. One can possess many moral values, but if one does not have the strength to keep them one will break them. That is what happens with the character of Macbeth as well. He deserved once to be called a “worthy” man because of his bravery but his credulity made him take the wrong way. Macbeth believed in the prophecy of the witches and their words started feeding his sick ambition. If he was manly, however, he would not believe in it so credulously. One of the etymologies of the word “man” comes from the root men- “to think”. That is why one of the characteristics of manliness is the process of thinking sensibly. But Macbeth was so enchanted by the words of the witches that he also says “Stay, you imperfect speakers, tell me more :”( 1.3.70). In contrast to Macbeth, Banquo says wisely “The instrument of darkness tell us truths,/ Win us with honest trifles, to betray’s/ In deepest consequences.” (1.3.124-1.3.126).That makes Banquo a real man because he is a realist who depends only on his own strength. Banquo also does not allow the witches to brainwash him and he does not believe them so credulously. A real “man” like him should be able to distinguish between what is good and what is bad, i.e. what is fair and what is foul. On the other hand Macbeth keeps on believing in the prophecy and we see him as he goes to the witches by himself and asks them for his destiny. The Thane of Cawdor depends not only on his abilities, but he also expects help from the witches. A real man would rely only on his strength because this shows that he is certain about his abilities. Another fact that proves that Macbeth has a very weak character is that he is very easily manipulated by his wife. In the seventh scene of act 1 Lady Macbeth says “From this time/Such I account thy love. Art thou afeard/ To be the same in thine own act and valor/ As thou art in desire?”(1.27.38-1.7.41)This shows that the change in Macbeth’s behavior is due to his weak spirit. He is not able to control his volition as he is mostly affected by the will of his wife. The man is the stronger sex and he should have the power to act according his own outlook. In contrast Macbeth does not know himself because he has lost his identity: “To know my deed, ’twere best not know myself.”(2.3.72). A manly deed can be considered again the act of Macduff who sacrifices his family in order to maintain the welfare of the whole nation. In fact in Macbeth all men except Macbeth are real men because they do not weaken and they save their ability to control their lives only by their volitions

Shakespeare’s play Macbeth brings the topic of manliness. The progressing action in the play makes the characters face different difficulties and their different reactions bring the contrast between what is manly and what is not. The “manly” qualities which are presented in Macbeth enrich the reader’s view of life and how it has changed during the centuries. Morality has changed and the values of the communities have changed. In conclusion what William Shakespeare tries to teach the reader is that manly is not a word that describes only men, but manliness is a moral value that makes one combine the ability of being an individual with the ability of being a social efficient member of a community.

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