“Fair is foul and foul is fair”: Gender identity in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth
Throughout history, gender roles have been an ever evolving set of rules that describe the stereotypical ideals of what men and women are responsible for doing in their everyday lives. Up until the 21st century, there was a lot of emphasis on women being the backbone of the household. For example, women were expected to do chores such as cleaning, cooking, watching the children, etc. They were also expected to be dainty and soft spoken. Men on the other hand were supposed to be the breadwinner as well as being masculine. Being masculine basically meant being strong both physically and mentally. They were supposed to be fearless warriors capable of the most heinous human actions such as genocide and homicide. Violence and aggression were traits that were admirable amongst men, especially in those times. In the 17th century, which is when Shakespeare lived, he regularly challenged these stereotypes by having characters not fit into these molds of how they were expected to act. Macbeth is a play in which Shakespeare completely throws out societal conventions of what masculinity and femininity mean and shows how they are interchangeable through the characters Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.
Macbeth is a play full of contradictions. Even from the very beginning when Macbeth and Banquo have their encounter with the witches, we get the sense that Shakespeare fully intended for his audience to identify with a world that cannot be trusted. Nothing will be as it seems, and everything has at least some sort of hidden aspect to it. The witches’ speech is full of contradictions: “When shall we meet again? (…) When the battle’s lost and won” (1.1.1-4), as well as the famous, “Fair is foul and foul is fair” (1.1.11-12). It was important that Shakespeare used the witches as he did because they foreshadow the whole plays contradictory and ambiguous ideas. They hit on the...