Gendering ‘‘The Scottish Play’’: Ideas on Gender Roles, Masculinity and Femininity of the Elizabethan Era and the Reign of James I Depicted in William Shakespeare’s ‘‘Macbeth’’

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This thesis concerns the play ‘‘Macbeth’’ by William Shakespeare, and focuses on depictions of gender, masculinity and femininity as seen in the characters of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and the Weird Sisters. The purpose of this thesis is to determine if and how these depictions correspond to ideas about gender and masculinity/femininity popular during the time in which the play was written, i.e. the Elizabethan era and the reign of James I. The resulting research question is as follows: Focusing on the characters of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth and the Weird Sisters in particular, how can we interpret ideas of gender roles and masculinity/femininity popular during the Elizabethan era and the early Stuart period? The England of Elizabeth: The Structure of Society by A.L. Rowse, Bruce W. Young’s Family Life in the Age of Shakespeare, and Barry Coward’s The Stuart Age will provide the reader with a historical backg! round. Th e play will be subjected to a close reading, and analysed with the help of several essays and books. One important conclusion is that although the general consensus in Elizabethan/Stuart times was that men were superior to women, the reality was much more complex. Although a majority of women were disadvantaged, many exerted power in various other ways. In the play, this is reflected in the relationship between Macbeth and his wife, who take on each other’s gender roles and challenge them. These roles are also challenged by the characters of the Weird Sisters, who defy and subvert female gender roles, creating their own kind of femininity. Keywords: William Shakespeare, ‘‘Macbeth,’’ gender roles, masculinity, femininity, Elizabeth, James I, witchcraft
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