William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, deals with the issue of manhood

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William Shakespeare?s tragedy, Macbeth, deals with the issue of manhood in a slightly unconventional way. Instead of presenting a protagonist who conveys the true nature of manhood through his every action and thought, Shakespeare presents his audience with Macbeth, a character who is forced to struggle with the definition of manhood throughout the entire play. In addition to Macbeth, Shakespeare also presents his audience with the varying viewpoints of different men and even women of the play as to what true manhood is. By noting these different perceptions, the reader is able to make general observations about manhood, that it is intricately related to strength, that it can be displayed through feats of courage, and other types of similar observations. However, it is difficult to reach any one conclusion as to how Shakespeare defines manhood in Macbeth. Interestingly enough, it is quite possible that this is Shakespeare?s very intent.

Shakespeare challenges his audience to derive their own definition of manhood. By doing this, Shakespeare drives home the point loud and clear: every man must obtain his own conclusion about manhood from within himself. In order to be a true man, it is necessary to follow ones own definition of what manhood is.

Many times, manhood is attributed to the courage of an individual. The reason for this is that courage signifies inner strength through the confrontation of limitations and through surpassing those limitations. True courage, however, can only be defined by that individual himself because only he knows the limitations to his own courage. Courage has many different levels and facets. It is relative to each man; what may be courage to one man may not be to another. The reason for this is because every man has his set of limitations to his courage. Not every man experiences the same fears and confronts the same dangers. The meaning of courage can also change according to different situations. A soldier on the battlefield must summon up a different type of courage than that of a man about to propose to a woman. All men confront different types and levels of worries. Based on these experiences, a limitation is established within each man. This is why true courage can only be achieved through ones own will. There is no other person that can define another person?s limitations for him. By realizing these limitations and confronting them, true courage is displayed. True courage comes with the realization of ones own character, not through the fulfillment of what others believe defines courage. Macbeth, at an early point in the play, shows the very conflict mentioned above with his beloved Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth?s definition of courage is attributed to pursuing ones ambition. She believes Macbeth lacks courage because he is unwilling to follow his own ambitions. These beliefs are revealed when she states, ?Thou wouldst be great, art not without ambition, but without the illness should attend it? (I,v,18-20). Lady Macbeth tries to appeal to Macbeth?s ambition by imposing her own definition of manhood on him. However, Macbeth finds himself reluctant to pursue it. The reason is because the limitation that Lady Macbeth asks him to confront is not his own. To Macbeth, her view of courage does not coincide with his view of courage. Committing the murder does not allow him to surpass the limitations to his own view of courage. Rather, he is attempting to confront and fulfill Lady Macbeth?s definition of manhood. Macbeth attempts to reassure himself of this when he says, ?Prithee peace! I dare do all that may become a man; who dares do more is none? (I,vii,46-8). Macbeth reveals his desire to do all that he is able within himself to achieve manhood. He also reveals his hesitance to do more than is necessary to fulfill it, signifying that crossing the line of his own limitations would go so far as to deprive him of his manhood. This distinction is revealed in Shakespeare?s use of pronouns. The shift from ?I? to ?who? signifies a change from his own view of courage to one that is not his own. Macbeth is unable to achieve manhood at this point because he does not seek to surpass his own limitations and follow his own definition of courage, but allows himself to be swayed by Lady Macbeth?s pursuit of her own view of manhood through him.

In addition to courage, manhood is also revealed by the way an individual deals with loss. The interesting idea about loss is that it defines manhood for different individuals in varying ways because different men have different views of that which is important to them. Losing something dear forces a man to acknowledge the importance of that which he has lost and reinforces his will to protect what he still has. Inner strength is cultivated through this protective attitude and it is this inner strength that reveals the characteristics of a man. The more an individual loses, the stronger he becomes because his will to protect is reinforced more and more with the pain of each loss. However, the methods of dealing with loss and the strength shown through these experiences also differ for each man. The reason for this is that each man has his own views of that which is important to him. These views can be affected and changed through new losses and gains, but they are still unique to each individual. It is through each man?s own convictions and experiences with loss that they are able to draw their strength. Because each man defines his manhood though his own unique perception of loss, it is difficult to impose on that individual another man?s definition of manhood. The experiences that each man carries are unique and inner strength through loss can only come from within ones own experiences and perceptions. Perhaps the greatest example of loss in Macbeth is Macduff?s loss of his entire family. Macduff conveys his own definition of manhood when he states, in response to Malcolm?s encouragements, ?I shall do so; but I must also feel it as a man. I cannot but remember such things were, that were most precious to me? Sinful Macduff, they were all struck for thee!? (IV,iii,223-7). Macduff acknowledges the importance of his family, but more importantly he reveals his indignation at the fact that their deaths were, to a large degree, his responsibility. In this case, Macduff?s will is focused on the task of protecting their memory by assuming his responsibility and seeking vengeance. It is through this will to protect that Macduff draws his strength and establishes his own unique perception of what manhood is. For Macduff, being a man means dealing with the loss of his family by protecting their memory through vengeance. This, however, can be contrasted with another perception of loss. Lord Siward suffers a loss almost equally as damaging as Macduff?s loss; he loses his son. However, Siward?s response to the death of his son is quite different from Macduff?s response. Siward honors his son?s death when he proclaims, ?Why then, God?s soldier be he! Had I as many sons as I have hairs I would not wish them to a fairer death. And so, his knell is knolled? (V,viii,44-8). Siward?s definition of manhood is fulfilled through his son, who fought bravely and died ?like a man? on the battlefield. His perception of loss is distinctly contrasted with Macduff?s because the importance of his son lies on a different level than Macduff?s family did with Macduff. For Siward, the fact that his son fought bravely and did not flee conveys the greatest importance. He states, ?He?s worth no more. They say he parted well and paid his score. And so, God be with him!? (V,viii,50-3). His will to protect is focused on preserving his son?s memory by honoring him with pride, and not with lamentations. Siward?s perception of manhood is based on the importance of bravery and honor. When Macduff and Siward?s perceptions of manhood are compared, it is plain to see why each of their views of manhood would have to come from within themselves. Because the issue of loss deals with such different aspects of importance within the two men, the only way that each of them would be able to fulfill their own perceptions of manhood would be through their own unique convictions and priorities.

Lastly, a true man abides by his own set of beliefs. Being true to these beliefs demonstrates possession of manhood because it conveys strength in ones identity. It shows a possession of security and assurance in ones own values and consistency in ones character. A strong foundation in ones beliefs conveys inner strength. Being untrue to ones beliefs however, weakens that individual tremendously because although others are unaware, he is forced to face his own false nature, his own façade. This awareness erodes self-confidence and assurance as to who he is as an individual. In other words, his sense of identity is weakened and his inner strength is diminished. This is why true manhood, through the strength of ones beliefs, can only come from within an individual. Every man has his own set of beliefs and cannot be told that his beliefs are mistaken. By experiencing life, men all reach their own separate conclusions. In order to be true to oneself, one must derive his own conclusions and beliefs in life from his own experiences and trials. If a man lacks the experience, then he lacks a solid foundation upon which to build his beliefs upon. Shakespeare conveys this though his use of the supernatural in Macbeth. The scenes with witches and ghosts serve the purpose of revealing Macbeth?s own nature to him. In the scene where Macbeth sees Banquo?s ghost at his dinner table, he cries, ?Unreal mockery, hence!? (III,iv,108). When the apparition leaves, he sighs with relief, ?Why, so; being gone, I am a man again? (III,iv,108-09). It is interesting to note Shakespeare?s diction when Macbeth attempts to banish Banquo?s ghost. Macbeth refers to Banquo?s ghost as a mockery, which would signify that Macbeth sees some part of himself, a reflection or display of his own identity, in Banquo?s spirit. It is also interesting to note that just before this incident occurs, Macbeth is toasting his ?dear friend Banquo,? whom he claims to miss. The conclusion derived from such an exchange would be that in order to punctuate Macbeth?s falsity and emphasize his loss of manhood from it, Shakespeare utilizes the supernatural, Banquo?s ghost, in order to symbolize Macbeth?s false nature. This serves to reveal Macbeth?s trepidation and hesitance at the prospect of facing his own falsity regarding his own beliefs. As the spirit departs and Macbeth is no longer forced to confront his fictitious nature for the time being, he claims to be ?a man again.? The truth is that Macbeth is slowly losing grasp on the reality of his own being because of his façade. His sense of identity is slowly eroding away and he loses his manhood with it due to his diminishing inner strength.

Although Shakespeare presents many perceptions of manhood through the characters of Macbeth, he allows the audience to struggle with their own definitions of manhood based on their observations of the play. Shakespeare is able to utilize this struggle to convey a deeper and more significant meaning as to the definition of what it is to be a man. The message that is ultimately conveyed is that only an individual can determine how that individual will become a man. By searching ones own character, an individual is more likely to reach a definition of manhood that is most suitable for him. Eventually, even Macbeth redeems himself by assuming his role as a soldier once more. By being true to his own nature and by abiding by his own perception of manhood as that of being a warrior, Macbeth discovers the strength that allows him to reach the conclusion that he is looking for. Through his struggles and his losses, Macbeth realizes that in order to find an answer, he must look within himself. During his final battle with Macduff, the conclusion he reaches coincides with his soldier?s nature, revealing a completion of manhood within Macbeth: ?I will not yield?Yet, I will try the last.? (V,viii,28-34)? Ironically, it is through the loss of the battle that Macbeth gains the victory for himself.



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