Publication Date

5-1-2002

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts

Abstract

The detailed examination of two of Shakespeare's female leads, Lady Macbeth and Gertrude, is designed to determine whether or not these particular characters were free from the confines of their society, or if they were content within its oppressive grasp. A combination of Feminist Criticism and New Historicism reveals that Lady Macbeth and Gertrude did not overstep the bounds of their gender, but in fact were suppressed within them. The limited rights and freedoms of a woman during the Renaissance is heavily discussed, and aids in giving the reader a vivid impression of Lady Macbeth's and Gertrude's subjugation. As Renaissance women were considered and treated inferior to their husbands in all respects, so are these two characters. Once the supposed driving force behind her husband's actions, Lady Macbeth makes a swift but devastating departure after Macbeth expels her from both his personal and political matters. No longer needing his wife to appease his conscience, Macbeth finds his own aptitude for evil. Torn between her roles as a wife and mother, Gertrude forfeits her happiness to please her overemotional son. Long before her actual death, Gertrude sacrifices a part of her identity to meet Hamlet's expectations. Both women relinquish their hopes and dreams to fulfill those of the men around them. Their blinded selflessness and misplaced devotion result in their ultimate undoing. Though the typical reader of Macbeth and Hamlet sometimes considers these particular female characters to be strong, bold, and selfish, the values of Shakespeare's era and his actual text suggest otherwise. The playwright's time was marked by a bitter gender struggle that pervaded all areas of Renaissance life, including his own work. Upon first glance, Lady Macbeth and Gertrude might come across as women who were strikingly independent. Throughout the progression of the plays, however, both women take a backseat to more important matters, such as politics and war. Even their deaths do not truly belong to them, as they seem to serve as mere asides to the inevitable "manly" action. Striving to meet the expectations of the men they loved, Lady Macbeth and Gertrude lose themselves in the process.

Disciplines

English Language and Literature | Literature in English, British Isles