Academic journal article Journal of Evolutionary Psychology

He Says/she Says: Shakespeare's Macbeth (a Gender/personality Study)

Academic journal article Journal of Evolutionary Psychology

He Says/she Says: Shakespeare's Macbeth (a Gender/personality Study)

Article excerpt

Q: What causes Macbeth and Lady Macbeth to change personalities?

He says:

As in any proverbial "battle of the sexes," isn't the answer obvious? What would make any man change his personality? Marriage! Without a doubt, Macbeth's real tragedy is his marriage[ If marriage can be defined as a coming together of opposites to form a third entity that is, as Gestalt psychology informs, "more than the sum of its parts," then marriage is indeed Macbeth's unfortunate undoing. And, of course, the fault lies with his wife: Lady Macbeth.

Think of it. Think of Macbeth's marriage to that "fiendlike" queen of his. She is the one who turns his noble and valiant conquests on the fields of war into "butchery" in the eyes of his former friends and countrymen. Macbeth was once a hero, and what Malcolm at the end of the play calls his "butchery" was, on the battlefield in service of Malcolm's father Duncan, not only lauded as "bravery" but also rewarded"

   For Brave Macbeth--well he deserves the name-Disdaining
   Fortune, with his brandished steel,
   Which smoked with bloody execution,
   Like valor's minion carved out his passage
   Till he faced the slave,
   Which ne'er shook hands nor bade farewell to him
   Till he unseamed him from the nave to th' chops,
   And fixed his head upon our battlements. (1.2.16-24)

At war, Macbeth's violent behavior is correctly understood as, and deemed to be, bravery because it is in service of his friends and "cousins." His loyalty is what is being lauded. But, mangled by the blood-spotted hands of his wife, he becomes a traitor--to his "brother band" and to himself. Her monomaniacal ambition changes him into a monster, one--not so ironically--whose loyalty even she cannot control to the point where she is literally "awakened" by her blind and vaulting ambition to realize she did not want the kind of man she thought she wanted. When ultimately confronted by his total depravity and emotional abandonment of their marriage (which she, herself, brutally brought about), she is forced to change her countenance, an epiphany that, in turn, reveals her guilty conscience: "Out, damned spot! Out, I say!" And, like the proverbial Frankenstein monster run amok, the monstrous man she creates can only be "undone" by one not of woman born--as if Macbeth had to be "reborn" into death through a male process that equates wound with womb, beheading with the infant's first crowning at birth.

But how does this all happen? How does Lady Macbeth "change" the unassuming and self-sacrificing Thane of Cawdor into an insensitive brute? First, she has very little regard for her husband's humanity and actually derides him for being "too full o'th' milk of human kindness" (1.5.17). Then, she manipulates him through a meticulous process of cruel and piercing emasculation, purposefully designed to attack his warrior status, an identity of utmost importance in his medieval and brutish realm: "Art thou afeard/To be the same in thine own act and valor/As thou art is desire" (1.7.40-42),

Indeed, her mocking is relentless. When he tries to defend his masculinity, "I dare do all that may become a man;/Who dares do more is none," she attacks even more brutally:

   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. (1.7.50-52)

She even goes so far as to embarrass him by proving she is, herself, more "the man" than he is,

   ... 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. (1.7.55-60)

Her last line above is also insulting on another level, for she accuses him of breaking his promise to her. In fact, when he tries to put an end to her ever-increasing pressure by daring to assert, "We will proceed no further in this business," she taunts him for his weakness and lack of loyalty:

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