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No Man of Woman Born

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  • Pages: 7
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  • Category: Regret

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Though many think the character of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a tragic hero, another character stands out as a much greater protagonist. While Macbeth is driven towards madness and to committing atrocities, Macduff lacks these flaws and remains incorrupt and heroic throughout the play. As Macbeth strives to gain power and prestige by killing the king, his friends, and his countrymen, Macduff meanwhile endures great personal loss in his attempts to stop Macbeth’s tyrannical reign and to restore justice and freedom to Scotland. With a name so similar to Macbeth’s, it is ironic yet fitting that Macduff acts so much more nobly than his king. Throughout the tragic, events of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macduff serves as a heroic figure through his demonstrations of intelligence, loyalty, and righteousness.

Macduff is mentioned little early in the play, though his intelligence can first be noted in his actions after King Duncan’s death. While many Scottish nobles prepare to welcome Macbeth to the throne and accept him as their king, Macduff is hesitant after hearing the story of the king’s death. Though Macduff at first accepts that Malcolm and Donalbain are the most likely suspects in the murder of their father, he does this only because the evidence points to them because they fled the scene. When asked if he will attend Macbeth’s inaugural ceremonies, Macduff responds, “No, cousin, I’ll to Fife” (Act 2 Scene 4 Line 36).

Macduff is less convinced than the others that the mystery of the king’s death has been solved, and he wisely distances himself from Macbeth, who is of course responsible for the murder, rather than simply accept Macbeth as his new king. When news spreads that Banquo too has been murdered in Macbeth’s castle, Macduff is again the first to act, as noted when Lennox states, “Thither Macduff/ is gone to pray the holy King, upon his aid/ To wake Northumberland and warlike Siward” (Act 3 Scene 6 Lines 29-31). Macduff demonstrates his intelligence by easily connecting Macbeth to the murders of King Duncan and Banquo before anyone else realizes. Macduff’s intelligence portrays his heroism and helps to save Scotland from destruction.

In all of Macduff’s actions, he remains loyal to his country and acts only to benefit Scotland. When Macduff travels to England to raise an army against Macbeth, he has no choice but to leave his family behind. As states by literary critic Piotr Sadowski, “once Macduff has chosen to serve the political cause all qualms about abandoning his family became suppressed” (21). Macduff selflessly puts his country before those he loves, leaving his family vulnerable to attack from Macbeth so that he may raise an army to defeat him and end the tyranny that controls his country. It becomes clear that Macduff is sincere when he displays loyalty when he is tested by the young Malcolm, who will inherit the throne if Macduff succeeds in overthrowing Macbeth.

Macduff’s loyalty to Scotland goes unbroken in his response to Malcolm, who asks if he is fit to govern. Macduff states, “Fit to govern/ No, not to live. O nation miserable! /…When shalt thou see thy wholesome days again” (Act 4 Scene 3 Lines 102-105). Macduff’s display of loyalty towards his country over its potential ruler is enough to prove to Malcolm his loyal nature and lack of selfishness. Malcolm agrees to lead the forces against Macbeth in a move that ultimately saves Scotland.

In all events of the play, Macduff acts to stop tyranny and all evil, making him a truly righteous character. From serving King Duncan to protecting Scotland and taking the throne back from Macbeth, Macduff acts morally just and does not brag his deeds in any way. After learning that his family has died at the command of Macbeth, Macduff weeps for them and expresses first his anger and regret, but he then accepts what has occurred and begins to think about his next action. Macduff simply says, “Bring thou this fiend of Scotland and myself; / Within my sword’s length set him. If he ‘scape, / Heaven forgive him too” (Act 4 Scene 3 Lines 233-235). Macduff believes that it is right and just to kill Macbeth, not only for killing his family, but for how he has brought pain and suffering to an entire nation. In stating his hope that Macbeth’s sins be forgiven if he fails to kill him, Macduff further shows his righteous, qualities in his ability to not hold a grudge against the man who has killed his family.

In the end, Macduff seems destined to kill Macbeth as Piotr states “In folklore, the child born through what later became the Caesarian section was said to possess great strength and the power to find hidden treasure and to see spirits” (Piotr 20). Not only do the witches’ prophecies point to Macduff as the one who has the power to dethrone Macbeth, but Shakespeare also uses a common theme to portray Macduff as a character of a higher power who seems the only fit to take down a powerful military ruler. When Macduff emerges from battle victorious in the final scene and holds Macbeth’s severed head, the image created is one of good overcoming evil.

Many people have differing opinions of Lady Macbeth. These opinions go from seeing Lady Macbeth as evil and malicious to others who see her as a victim of her devotion to her husband. Lady Macbeth is the main female character in the play, giving us insight into Shakespeare’s intentions in his construction of the female gender. He gives Lady Macbeth with not only feminine qualities but also with masculine qualities as well. Another way to understand Shakespeare’s construction of femininity in the play is to look closely at the role of the witches and their relation to Lady Macbeth. These two powerful female forces influence, and at times control Macbeth’s actions.

Lady Macbeth ‘and the witches are indirectly identified with each other by their departures from prescribed female subordination, by their parallel role as catalysts to Macbeth’s actions, and by the structure and symbolism of the play'( Boyd 57). Shakespeare constructed these women andhe intended for them to be viewed in a evil, vile way.The witches may be hard to recognize as such, because as Banquo says, ‘You should be women,/And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/That you are so.'(Act 1 Scene 3 Lines 46-48) The witches portray a somewhat male appearance, which is more important for a viewer of the play than for a reader. They not only predict Macbeth’s future, they also lure him into doing what they want by telling him several prophecies. The witches embody both masculine and feminine traits, not only in their appearance but in their actions as well. They are a clear authority figure in Macbeth’s life. They warn him about everything that will happen in his life but they do it in a way that causes him to think he will never be harmed and that all of his goals will be achieved. In this way, the witches dominate and control Macbeth. The fact that this relationship of women having complete control over a man is unnatural makes them seem as villians.

Their supernatural powers allow them to have all of this power and still be women. Lady Macbeth and the witches are very similar in this way. They both control the actions of Macbeth and both carry with them a certain power that is usually reserved for men. These two female forces are standing on either side of Macbeth, one pulling while the other is pushing. They force Macbeth in the direction that they want. The only difference between them is that Lady Macbeth’s actions are based on her belief that it will make Macbeth a better man, while the witches are pushing him in that direction simply because they know how it will end. The witches and Lady Macbeth are represented as unnatural so their femininity is less noticable and make their masculine traits more acceptable.

Shakespeare uses these female figures to show the duality of woman: she can be feminine and loving but also vicious and wicked. Shakespeare wanted us to see every aspect of Lady Macbeth’s character. At one point, we sympathize with Lady Macbeth, at another, we despise her. She can be decidedly wicked, while at other times she is just pitiable and the audience can empathize with her. As Boyd states, ‘The crime of Lady Macbeth terrifies us in proportion as we sympathize with her; and that this sympathy is in proportion to the degree of pride, passion, and intellect we may ourselves possess. It is good to behold and to tremble at the possible result of the noblest faculties uncontrolled or perverted'(Boyd 360).. This play could be taken as somewhat of a feminist work. Both major female figures achieved their own personal goals by using masculine behaviors and by using the men around them. However, Lady Macbeth could not handle the masculine role as she eventually goes insane and kills herself. it. Shakespeare is showing that in some cases femininity can be associated with murder, deceit, betrayal and villainy.

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