Why Lady Macbeth Is Literature’s Most Misunderstood Villain

This fateful choice, in the case of Lady Macbeth, can best be understood as that of a woman navigating a strongly patriarchal world. If women had ambitions in early modern England, they were chiefly to achieve them through men, and there is a strong feeling that Lady Macbeth missed an opportunity to achieve greatness both at because of her sex and her husband – Macbeth may have status on the battlefield but has less in court. Her questioning of her manly courage (“Are you afraid?”) cannot simply be seen as emasculation, but an indication that she could have married a man with more political power. “There’s a really interesting theme that there’s a different tragedy for Lady Macbeth when she’s [played] older — she could easily have been queen,” Whyman says. “[Shakespare is] constantly curious about what it’s like to be a female leader and he keeps putting these guys with deep flaws and then suggesting there’s a woman close to them who could have done better. Of course, he also lived at a time when the idea of ​​a queen was very powerful.” Whyman points to Hermione in The Winter’s Tale as another of Shakespeare’s wives who suffers at the hands of a feeble-minded husband. virtuous Queen of Sicily is falsely accused of infidelity by King Leonte and is forced to stand trial: “Queen Hermione is treated appallingly [but] she would have led the country brilliantly.

King James I may have been Britain’s ruler when Macbeth was published, but his predecessor, Elizabeth I, had an obvious influence on Shakespeare. During her ascension to the throne, the monarch challenged gender roles; she refused to submit to marriage – arguing that she was “already bound to a husband, which is the kingdom of England” – while clinging to her feminine identity in her aesthetic and diverse speeches, describing her subjects as his “children” for example. But she also displayed the regal traits (considered masculine due to the traditionally male hierarchy) of active agency and decision-making, and was referred to using regal male descriptors, such as “princely” and “Prince of Light”, in addition to being classified as “king” in parliamentary status for political purposes. However, where Elizabeth I embraced political androgyny and reigned for 45 years, Lady Macbeth de-examines herself and wanders off. “She thinks the only way to be successful is to follow a patriarchal set of rules,” says Whyman. “She’s not some kind of power-hungry man impersonator – she’s all about herself, but she thinks the only way to have agency in the world is to do this terrible act and she’s got it all. totally wrong about that. If she clung to her morals, so her femininity in that sense, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Shakespeare was miles ahead of female representation, and Lady Macbeth is a character who has too often been painted in a two-dimensional light. Had she had more scenes in the play, her motives might not have seemed so ambiguous to stubborn viewers. As it stands, Lady M leaves the room after her sleepwalking scene and in act five scene seven is reported as dead, obviously by suicide if Malcolm’s comment that she ” would have taken her life by herself and by violent hands”. But Coen complicates matters by adding a sequence involving Lady Macbeth and nobleman Ross (Alex Haskell) that suggests there could be even more foul play going on. Did she throw herself down the stairs – either because the guilt was too great or as an act of atonement – or was she pushed by Ross in revenge for her husband’s order to murder his cousin Lady MacDuff? It’s up to the viewer to decide. What is clear is that Macbeth cares for his wife to the end and Coen introduces him by having Washington’s tragic hero watch her lying at the bottom of the fateful staircase, staggering slightly as the pain overwhelms him. The only constant in this adaptation is their love for each other.

McDormand joins a welcome list of women bringing enough depth and layers to this formidable character to combat 400 years of gross misunderstandings that say more about these performers than the multi-faceted literary figure Shakespeare created. Lady Macbeth is a timeless and tragic heroine who should be cherished and not despised. “There is no point in portraying her as mean or suggesting that because she is childless she is, in some ways, hollow and sterile and inevitably evil,” says Whyman. “She’s not a villain; she’s complex, she’s curious – we should admire her.”

The Tragedy of Macbeth is available from Friday internationally on Apple TV+

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