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William Shakespeare’s Commentary on Female Political Rulers through the Character of Lady Macbeth (Part 2)

June 28th, 2010 Comments off

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To gain credibility in her abilities and in the confidence that although she is a woman, she is capable of hungering for such power and seizing this power from others, Lady Macbeth must remove all aspects of femininity from herself. If the lady wishes to sway others into believing that she is perfectly competent of exercising leadership, she feels that the spirits must literally deprive her of femininity, thicken her blood, and halt her ability to weep openly. She begs these specters to strip away the attributes that make her a woman in crying out, “Come, you spirits That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, And fill me, from the crown to the toe, top full Of direct cruelty. ” (I, v, 41-44). She desires for her blood congeal so that she can no longer be harmed by her own guilty conscious, “Make thick my blood, Stop up the access and passage to remorse, That no compunctious visiting of nature Shake my fell purpose nor keep peace between The effects and it! ” (I, v, 44-48). If Lady Macbeth is able to halt any inhibitions of guilt that may result from any of her deeds, she can consider herself more of a man, as men do go out into battle and kill without inflicting their souls with compunction. She then begs that the physical characteristics that make her a woman be removed, “Come to my woman’s breasts, And take my milk for gall, your murthering ministers wherever in your sightless substances You wait on nature’s mischief. ” (I, v, 48-51). When Lady Macbeth desires to be “unsexed” in both emotional and physical terms, her words reveal the noted discordance between the supposed archetype of feminine nature and political ambition. Despite this, Klein suggests, “[She] is never able to separate herself completely from womankind – unlike her husband, who ultimately becomes less and worse than a man,” (169). Shakespeare must de-feminize Lady Macbeth to some extent to give her ambitions credibility and, therefore, maintain in the minds of the audience that she as a character to be taken seriously.

  Through the bullying and chastising of her husband, Lady Macbeth drives Macbeth to dismiss his own fears, which ultimately leads to his own downfall.   Shakespeare transforms the longing of Lady Macbeth into that of a masculine nature and by doing so, through her actions and words, places Macbeth in a passive role.   The playwright allows Lady Macbeth to dominate her husband to show that such reversal of sexual relations is also a reversal of political order, reflecting the issues of female involvement in the government and the aptitude possessed by women to reign over men as a monarch.   Throughout the first portion of the play it can be noted that Macbeth is continuously forced to assert his manliness to his wife, first in writing a letter to her from the battlefield hailing his accomplishments and then by murdering King Duncan.   The initial probing exposes a more feminine side of Macbeth, one of doubt and hesitation, when he asks, "If we fail? " (I, vii, 58).   Lady Macbeth replies sharply, "We fail? But screw your courage to the sticking-place And we’ll not fail. " (I, vii, 59-61), attempting to assuage his fears.   Lady Macbeth continuously berates her husband for his lack of conviction, deeming him a weak man who can easily be exploited.   She becomes angered when Macbeth determines that he will not claim the crown by treacherous means, "If chance will have me king, why, chance may crown me Without my stir. " (I, iii, 143-144).   Although a man well versed in the sentiments of the battlefield, having hunted down traitor Macdonwald and "unseamed him from the nave to the chaps and fixed his head upon our battlements," Macbeth is plagued by the insistence of a guilty conscious.   Lady Macbeth proceeds to mock him because of his apparent remorse following the murder of King Duncan saying, "My hands are of your color [blood], but I shame To wear a heart so white. " (II, ii, 62-63).   Lady Macbeth finishes the deed of her husband herself, considering him not manly enough to go back and place the bloody daggers in the dead monarch’s bedchamber.   It is through the frequent insults and stabs against his manhood, that Shakespeare brings to light what a strong personality that Lady Macbeth possesses, one strong enough to assume the masculine role of acquisition of power. Upon asking the spirits to unsex her otherwise feminine emotional state and body to gain standing as a power-craving individual, Lady Macbeth acknowledges the single trait that still separates her from masculinity, at least in her mind, the ability to bear children. To remove this capacity would eliminate every aspect which would be considered womanly and, therefore, leave her a neutral ruler, unable to be influenced by the prospect of having children, which was condemned a weakness by the society.

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William Shakespeare’s Commentary on Female Political Rulers through the Character of Lady Macbeth (Part 3)

June 28th, 2010 Comments off

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The disgust Lady Macbeth holds for any child who originates from her flesh can be noted in, “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, Heave pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums, And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you Have done to this. ” (I, vi, 54-59). This astonishing revelation also reflects the manner in which she treats those she judges more vulnerable than herself, both man and child alike, influencing them to do horrific crimes for her personal gain. To distance herself from every preconceived notion regarding womanhood, Lady Macbeth has chosen to remain a “barren scepter”, (II, i, 62) denying herself the right to give birth in exchange for a masculine mystique, which allows her the power she is searching to gain. Macbeth, on the other hand, insists that she bear an heir to the throne if he is to occupy it, taking a more practical, parental role a compared to his wife. “Bring forth men-children only! ” he proclaims, “For thy undaunted mettle should compare Nothing but males. ” (I, vii, 72-74). The allusions made to the childlessness and the demands for a son to ascend the throne in this marriage can be found echoing in the minds of the first audience following the death of Queen Elizabeth, who died without hereditary heir. Devoid of the capacity or desire of neither Queen Elizabeth nor Lady Macbeth to yield children, each female ruler in the position of power maintains her credibility as a leader through a masculine form and nature.

Once Lady Macbeth succeeds in convincing Macbeth to undertake the unspeakably horrendous act of murdering King Duncan, her domineering nature can no longer keep him under her spell. Macbeth realizes his strengths stemming from the initial regicide and no longer needs her to fuel his ambition. As in all of human nature, a manipulative mind must have a weak soul by which to prey on, but once this soul loses its inhibitions and gains independence, the manipulative mind shall crumble. Admitting to having killed the guards of the king’s chamber, Macbeth breaks free from the original plan devised by his wife and thus emerges out of her scheme a self-sufficient figure, causing Lady Macbeth to faint in disbelief. While Lady Macbeth is seen to be reexamining the events of the previous murder, Macbeth looks ahead, anticipating the next murder, that of Banquo, which he has not informed his wife of yet. Gradually Macbeth distances his mind from the grip of Lady Macbeth, tasting the spoils of victory independently, and then actively seeking them out, ending the lives of Banquo and Macduff’s wife and children, securing that his wife have no place in the masculine acts of treason and revenge. Upon ascending the throne, “he, the man, so fully commands Lady Macbeth that he allows her no share in his new business. No longer his accomplice, she loses her role as housekeeper. ” (Klein, 175). Once Macbeth realizes his strength and no longer needs her or is in awe of her, Lady Macbeth, stricken and without an object to carry out her manipulation through, falls into periods of madness and sleepwalking. She becomes obsessed with removing the blood from her hands, as to her they appear stained, signifying a personal trial underway upon her soul. Lacking an individual to bestow upon her evil intentions and to achieve her ambitions, Lady Macbeth is forced to turn the evilness upon herself, eventually culminating into suicide as a result of relentless guilt. After losing the power of manipulation over her husband, Lady Macbeth loses her rank in the political institution of the monarchy and, therefore, ultimately ceases to exist, without the control.

The anxieties of gender role manifested in Shakespeare’s Macbeth decisively present that even such a powerful character as Lady Macbeth, or Queen Elizabeth herself, can not overcome the traditions of a patriarchal system through acceptable means. In the conclusion, Malcolm, son of Duncan, is restored to the throne and thus re-establishing normalcy in the line of succession, as deemed appropriate by the British people during Shakespeare’s time. Through the allegorical representation of the political ethos of Renaissance England, Shakespeare examines and resolutely determines that positive involvement of women within the political structure is not feasible, as demonstrated by the evolution of his character, Lady Macbeth.

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Feminism in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Drama (Part 2)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off

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The ladies also produce the an example of female goodness in the acts of Thermutis, daughter of the Pharaoh, who protected and raised Moses as an abandoned infant. Finally, with other evidence provided in the Bible these women present to Pizan a statement including the idea, “There Adam slept, and God formed the body of woman from one of his ribs, signifying that she should stand at his side as a companion and never lie at his feet like a slave, and also that he should love her as his own flesh. ” As Plato, Pizan, Aristophanes, and Bingen struggled to supply confirmation of biological equality in men and women to counteract the previously oppressive beliefs against the female gender, each also felt employed to define the roles of women in society as a whole.

Greek culture dictated a very strict and well-defined role in which women were supposed to conduct themselves to maintain a dignified and acceptable status in their society; however, Aristophanes, Plato, Bingen, and Pizan dispute exactly what this role is to be. Bingen gives much value to the Virgin Mary, deeming her architect of life, “you who built salvation, you who destroyed death,” respecting her on the basis of her position as the mother of Christ and also a virgin, insisting on a very traditional view of women. Although she is quite the oddity in terms of education and published authorship accomplishment, Bingen does not bestow upon women any specific communal role other than housewife and mother, despite the fact that she herself is so much more. Perhaps in an unspoken way, as a mechanism to gain more substantial male approval, Bingen contradicts the customary roles of women, but just in a more elusive way.

The words and actions of Lysistrata also serve as a means of questioning the ancient Greek perceptions of the role of women in their culture; however, subliminally upon careful examination it seems that Aristophanes disagrees with his own character, instead adapting her quests for political rights into comedic relief. Even in the very opening scene, Aristophanes enacts the stereotypical and time-honored characterization of women articulated during this time period and thus through such description, Aristophanes distances his heroine. Becoming enraged that women will not stand up to how they are typically viewed, Lysistrata proclaims, “I’m positively ashamed to be a woman,” although it is through this stereotypical identity that she hopes to manipulate sexually frustrated men into a peace agreement, using their carnal prowess as a mans of gaining a favorable solution. True examples of tension between the sexes can be targeted in our examination of actions by Lysistrata and her followers against the men. Their male counterparts believe that women have no place in war and thus should not concern themselves with such matters. Additionally, the women of Lysistrata’s group seize the Acropolis to prevent the use of money for warfare, informing the Commissioner that women will take care of the city’s money just as they do at home. Aristophanes implies through Lysistrata’s ascertations that women have a greater sense of reason than boundless political men. She insists, “ye women must wive ye warre! ”, in other words, what Athens needs is a woman. Despite the apparent strides made in feminist ideals by Aristophanes, it seems that the author in reality is poking fun at the female attempts of expressed equality. Although women take on genuine power in assuming control of the Acropolis, Aristophanes excludes women from the spoken idealization of Athens as described by Lysistrata. The philosopher insists through this omission that women are not to have actual political rights or a valid voice in society.

Plato and Pizan make more extreme leaps in their publicized philosophies regarding the position of women in society in an attempt to convince their contemporaries of the merits of female public participation. Plato’s The Republic describes a civilization in which children will be raised in common by those of lowering socio-economic standing, thus freeing up individual women from the burden of child rearing and giving each an opportunity to serve the community alongside their male counterparts in the government. Under Plato’s idealized social system, women are allowed and even encouraged in accordance to their true nature, to develop their skills as musicians, doctors, or even warriors.

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Feminism in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Drama (Part 3)

June 24th, 2010 Comments off

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To discount the obvious physical differences in men and women that prevent women from becoming as effective warriors, Plato insists that the fairer sex should not be at the forefront of battles, but still allowed to participate in war. Through Socrates, Plato also vows that women should participate in athletic events and gymnastic competitions, despite the required nudity, as men will get used to the concept of naked women contestants over time. At the beginning of Book V, Adelmantus points out to Socrates that the wives and children will be held in common by Guardians, effectively saying that women are able to be Guardians just as well as the men. From Plato’s Apology, the statement “…. and I think that they were a dishonor to the state and that any stranger coming in would say then that the most eminent men of Athens, to whom the Athenians themselves give honor and command, are no better than women. ”, can provide a double edged sword of meaning, but taken into account his previously declared attitude of women’s equality in power, one must assume that he is not trying to demean women, but instead provide them with honor that is due to all of society, regardless of gender. Plato claims that all members of similar social status, regardless of gender, should be provided with equal standards of living with no private ownership of anything, and also maintains that the ruling class of any given culture should be made up of male and female “true” philosophers from the Gold class. Pizan cites a law professor’s daughter’s innate capacity to comprehend legal topics and lecture to students in her father’s absence as evidence of the true capabilities of women. God endowed women with the gift of speech, and that of weeping and sewing, all of which must be utilized to the best of each woman’s ability. Each philosopher has his or her own ideals of how women should perform in society, regardless of how they feel concerning equality of the sexes.

It is remarkable that arguments were made by ancient philosophers, who were willing to go against common stereotypes of women and seek out a truer knowledge of equality in biological makeup and societal roles. Through the duties of Lysistrata and her followers in the absences of their husbands, women were able to gain more independence and self-sufficiency, which is comparable to the large steps that women made in the workforce and with women’s rights following World War II. With the seeds of equality so firmly planted by Plato, Aristophanes, Bingen, and Pizan, one would assume that advancements in equal right would have been made sooner than the twentieth century; however, most feminist movements and similar undercurrents in literature were squashed during the Middle Ages in Europe. Attitudes similar to those of ancient Greeks are still a reality in the world today in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries where women are oppressed. Despite the strides that such ancient philosophers were able to achieve in their time, even if only through publication, the fact that it took centuries to affect change reveals a fundamental rift in western societies between man and woman that needs not only reason, but also experience to overcome.

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Feminism in Ancient Greek Philosophy and Drama

June 24th, 2010 Comments off

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In ancient Greek culture, much turmoil existed on the basis of gender rights and personal roles within the society, as examined by Aristophanes, Plato, Bingen, and Pizan, each seemingly ahead of his or her time with respect to feministic values. Although some “enlightened” philosophers did not believe that existed any more depth than comedic folly for women in political systems, others like Plato determined that it be essential for women to take part in governmental affairs. Even in today’s world, such conflicts are manifested, particularly in poor countries, without a resolution in such a long and drawn out social dilemma.

Countless theories of a factual and expressed series of fundamental differences in men and women are adamantly refuted in the works of Aristophanes, Plato, Bingen, and Pizan, proving that women are effectively equal to men by either words or example. Although disagreement existed between what roles this equality allows for by these ancient Greek philosophers, each strived to defy the ascertations as described in cultural norms. Aristophanes makes a first attempt in rationalizing this equality as we delve into our studies, revealing in the first scenes that women have a comparable sex drive to men, refuting statements made by Aristotle concerning the supposed sexual passivity of women. In his character Lysistrata, Aristophanes recounts that when calling upon the Spartan and Athenian women to discuss the ongoing war, such women would have been coming forth from their homes with tambourines if a celebration of drunkenness and orgy had been given in the name of Bacchos. Later in the text, Cleonice, Myrrhine, and Lampito, key characters in Lysistrata’s plot and otherwise, very traditional women, inform their organizer that they would be willing to do anything but give up sex for the war effort, even walking through fire, mirroring similar desires of men as described in the final scenes with graphic imagery. This being affirmed, other philosophers examine additional biological similarities which provide further evidence that men and women are essentially the same in abilities and intelligence. In Book V of The Republic, Plato asserts that women have the same parts of the soul and so all the same interests, virtues, and personality types as men. Starkly contrasting with majority of his contemporaries, Plato believes that it is these such similarities of soul and mind that provide reason to require education for girls in the same caliber as that provided to boys, as they hold the potential of future rulers and guardians. Through Socrates, Plato suggests that the distinction between men and women is fundamentally as relevant in intellectual aptitudes as the difference found in the performance of longhaired verses shorthaired individuals, concluding that male and female are by nature the same in obligation of education and employment. In an ironic twist and example of opinions in ancient Greek society, Aristophanes attempts to point out the intellectual boundaries that some women believe they are governed by through Cleonice’s remarks, explaining to Lysistrata that glamour is the only talent women possess and that there is nothing for women to do but sit looking beautiful for her husband. However, without attempting to directly defy typical stereotypes during this period, Bingen contradicts this assumption of inevitable talentlessness among females in her mere publication. During a time when few women could write and most were denied access to a formal education, Bingen was creating inspired works of poetry in an example of female capabilities through action. Pizan in her own internal exploration and encounters with the three women of Lady Reason, Rectitude, and Justice, chose to defy the natural laws as many males spoke of, the idea that women are fundamentally evil and inclined to vice. In such a personal quest, Pizan describes “thinking deeply about these matters, I began to examine my character and conduct, since I was born a woman, and similarly, I considered other women whose company I frequently kept…hoping that I could judge impartially and in good conscious whether the testimony of so many notable men could be erroneous. ” The three women appear solely to establish the knowledge in our young author that women are of equal value as men, and in contradicting this, call out the shortcomings of Aristotle’s viewpoint as described by Saint Augustine and the Doctors of the Church.

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