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Macbeth: Criticism, Gender and the Tragedy of the Human


Anna Maria Cimitile

Macbeth: Criticism, Gender and the Tragedy of the Human

Tragedy, knowledge, ethics shall be the space of my investigation of Macbeth. Macbeth is a play about the human. To the extent that all tragedies are about mens deviations from humanity (in the classical, Aristotelian definition, in tragedy it is the main characters error that makes them fall into a condition of unhappiness), Macbeth too is a text where the human is introduced and defined by negation: all that the protagonists put aside or spurn in their pursuit of power loyalty, truth, hospitality, friendship, motherly love is what defines the human in absentia. The space of Macbeth is tragic to the extent that the humane statute has been removed from it. It is tragic because its world is characterized by a crisis in those two major areas to which human agency is related, knowledge and ethics. The two are contiguous spaces in the text, where one line runs from the ambiguity of the knowable, marked by the witches speeches but also by the equivocation of all the language of the play, to the abandonment of the ethical. In Macbeth the critical dimension intended in the double sense of passively being in crisis and, at the same time, proving actively critical of certain cultural conventions of the tragic, the knowable and the ethical, is underlain by that most ambivalent feature that characterizes the play: the man-woman difference that looms large throughout the text and is to be found everywhere in its language. To what extent is the latter imbricated in
Textus XX (2007), pp. 539-554.


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the crisis of the human addressed by the text? This essay aims at an exploration of that relation. The question of gender difference constantly crosses boundaries in Macbeth: from the sexual and gender difference proper it spreads to the rhetorical and figurative level of language, going as far as to induce the iterated, well-known slippage between the manly and the human. In all its passages, it truly remains a question, for every time the difference between man and woman, masculine and feminine is fixed, invoked, relied upon, each term of the binary crosses the internal boundary, proving ambiguity its own realm as well as the eminent feature of this text. Looking at the way the question of gender in Macbeth relates or interferes with definitions of the human and the tragic means an investigation of the way the ambiguity of the gender difference and its crossing of boundaries affect the space of the human, knowledge and ethics.

Tragedy and Gender By way of an introduction, let us consider the question of sexual difference in tragedy. We can agree with Linda Bamber, who wrote that Shakespeare is consistently an author whose response to the feminine is central to the general significance of his work (Bamber 1982: 4). But is there any tragic female character in Shakespeare? In investigating the Shakespearean tragic, Bradleys character-based criticism left the womans part out of its space; Bradley acknowledged that female characters could be heroines in Shakespeares tragedies, but it was only in the love-tragedies [] that the heroine is as much the centre of the action as the hero. The rest, including Macbeth, are single stars (Bradley 1981: 2-3). For Bradley tragedy was obviously a male prerogative. In Comic Women, Tragic Men Bamber somehow repeated this thesis, although she argued it in a feminist perspective, and stated that Shakespearean tragedy is the space of the absence of a significant feminine Other (Bamber 1982: 105). Writing about Macbeth and Coriolanus, she argued that in those plays woman is not Other to man, being rather identified

Macbeth: Criticism, Gender and the Tragedy of the Human


with the masculine-historical project in general and the heroes own careers in particular (ibid.: 92). For Bamber this effacement of the feminine difference, which, when depicted as evil is rather a projection of male fears about it, has a radical effect on both gender definitions and the genre itself. Since woman is as it were absorbed in the masculine Self that permeates the space of tragedy, she represents a real threat to the necessary independence from the (feminine) Other on the part of the (masculine) Self, with the consequence of: unmanliness in the heroes and an alteration in the structure of the tragedy (ibid.: 20). It is the absence of the womans difference from the tragic space of Macbeth, where she is but the male projection of otherness and not actual Other to the male hero, that subtracts general significance from Macbeths death (ibid.: 96). The lack of dialectic between man and the feminine Other makes his death inconclusive: if the death of the erring hero at the end of tragedy usually reaffirm[s] us in our humanism, our sense of the value of our lives to us (ibid.), Macbeths end fails to do so, as he has simply repeated his mode and exhausted its possibilities until the time of death. Bamber reads this as the sign that there is some recognition, some consciousness on the part of the text, that the misogyny that creates evil women characters can only lead to a radical failure of manliness (ibid.: 20). The absence of the feminine Other is catastrophic for both man and tragedy. Bambers has become a classic study of gender and genre in Shakespeare by now, but her analysis is in good company. Over the last forty years feminist studies have produced a reassessment of Shakespeare which aims at reconsidering the womans part in his texts; the variety of interpretations, even within feminist criticism which for obvious reasons is the most relevant here testifies to the ambiguity of Shakespearean tragedy and in particular of Macbeth on the topic. The insightful psychoanalytic analysis of anxieties induced by maternal power, as carried out by Janet Adelman in Suffocating Mothers (1992), reads Macbeth, for instance, as a representation of primitive fears about male identity and autonomy itself (Adelman 1992: 131). Woman and femininity are also discussed in their relation with spaces that have been the cultural prerogative of the indi-


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vidual male. Thus Mary Beth Rose (2002) proposes a redefinition of the all-male heroism which appears in early modern English literature as being nuanced by questions of gender difference. Writing about Macbeth as an investigation of aristocratic male heroism, which is in her opinion exposed by the play as being criminal, she states that in the text the critique of masculinity [] destroys the heroic ideal while at the same time mourning its destruction in the [] moving portrait of the heros courage (ibid.: 25). Although she acknowledges Macbeth to be one male hero who succeeds in excluding the female from his identity (ibid.: xx), she nevertheless states that, in its exposure of male heroism as criminal violence, the play gestures toward the future trajectory of the heroic, which she sees as an increasing feminization of heroism (ibid.: 25).1 There is another perspective on gender and tragedy I would like to briefly mention at this point, as one more instance of the variety of approaches to the topic. Cristina Len Alfars Fantasies of Female Evil (2003) argues for the existence of a female tragic subject in Shakespeares tragedy. She writes that Shakespearean tragedy does have a space for the female subject as well as the male. Her reading focuses on evil female characters such as Goneril and Regan in King Lear and Lady Macbeth in our play. In particular, about the latter she writes that her evil character is not to be read as being outside of or contrasting with the early modern, patriarchal conception of gender roles, but should rather be seen as intrinsic to patriarchy, what contributes to the maintaining in place of its hierarchies. She writes that, in depicting Lady Macbeth, Shakespeare was in fact being highly critical of the patriarchal system:
I read Lady Macbeths encouragement of her husbands regicide as Shakespeares parodic depiction of wifely duty. Set within a structure of power dependent on violence for stability, Lady Macbeths
1 By the end of the seventeenth century [] all heroism becomes problematic and is constituted in terms that are gendered female (Rose 2002: xxi). Roses argument is that through a sustained critique of physical strength as the basis of male privilege, in early modern English literature the heroics of action is gradually replaced by an alternative heroics of endurance, which is significantly represented in female terms (ibid.: xxi-xxii).

Macbeth: Criticism, Gender and the Tragedy of the Human


behavior adheres to rather than transgresses her gender role. (Alfar 2003: 113)

Alfar also writes that the difference between male and female characters in Shakespeares tragedies, whereby the female desire to self-determination is qualified as evil, is not a reflection of the playwrights ideology, but rather a projection of our own investments in binaries of active/passive and good/evil, reiterated in that of male/female (ibid.: 20), and states: I reject the notion that womens acts of violence imply either Shakespeares dread of female power or that such acts are transgressions of proper femininity (ibid.: 21). She then concludes: I argue that the process by which women become evil is exposed in Shakespeares plays as a construct, a strategy deployed both for the preservation of masculinist power and as a way to mask the patrilineal structures own ruthlessness and violence (ibid.: 24). Alfar therefore posits a distance between the texts ideology and the patriarchal system it exposes, and offers a compelling version of Lady Macbeths evil as rather being a criticizing parody of the wifely obedience patriarchy required of all women. In this light, even Lady Macbeths madness acquires a different meaning, one that is also important for a reflection on the feminine redefinition of the tragic in Macbeth. For Alfar Lady Macbeths madness does not happen because she cannot sustain anymore the burden of guilt. Nor does it happen because at a certain point she is relegated to the more feminine space of silence, ignorance and passivity by her husband, although this fact could be seen as the initiator of her distraction. In 3.2, before the killing of Banquo is performed but when it has already been planned by Macbeth, the latter discourages his wifes implication in this deed of dreadful note (Macbeth 3.2.44) and urges her to Be innocent of the knowledge, [] Till thou applaud the deed (3.2.45-46). Alfar contends that this request does not change her phallic role as a reflection of his desires, nor does it limit her independence any more than before. It only imposes a passive mode on her, but her role as feminine guarantor of her husbands power (Alfar 2003: 129) is still required of her. And it is this that induces her madness. As Alfar writes:


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Lady Macbeths insanity, then, must be read not as an inherent feminine response but as produced by gender prescriptions. [] The trajectory of her descent from sanity to insanity suggests that in Shakespeares play feminine madness is a response to being only for an other. Lady Macbeths insanity and suicide, therefore, interrogate polarized gender structures, revealing them to be destructive of female subjectivity. (Ibid.: 130)

Of the diverse voices mentioned above, Alfars is the only one to positively invoke a feminine tragic agency in Macbeth. (Even Roses analysis, which is quite interesting in its definition of a feminine heroic, stops short of admitting the existence of a feminine tragic heroine in the text and only says that the play gestures towards the feminine form of heroic identity.) For Alfar, Lady Macbeths corruption displays the ruthlessness of state power and the characters tragic aspect lies in her being subordinated to that system. This is how she humanizes her evil, and lets it enter the realm of tragedy. For we need to remember that tragedy is what pertains to the human. By insisting on her evil, on the gender difference as monstrous, the critics of Macbeth or the Shakespearean text itself, depending on whether you are persuaded or not by Alfars analysis leave Lady Macbeth out of the tragic space. As long as all the violent female figures are thought of as monstrous evil, they are cut out of the realm of tragedy. One thing is to be involved with the supernatural forces, as happens in Macbeths relation with the witches, another is to be the supernatural. The weird sisters are not tragic characters, because they are from the outset identified as entities other than human (besides, they retain a comic quality about them that could not fit the realm of the tragic). They question the malefemale difference in other ways; they exist to be interpreted (Garber 2004: 699), yet nonetheless they equivocate in order to confound Macbeth and defy interpretation in general; in their physical appearance they epitomize the border crossing that is a feature of the text (you should be women, / And yet your beards forbid me to interpret / That you are so 1.3.45-7). They are subjects of tragedy to the extent that they, as evil agents, in an almost voodoo-like fashion (as Orson Welless 1948 filmic Macbeth rendered), keep control

Macbeth: Criticism, Gender and the Tragedy of the Human


over the events and the male protagonist of the tragedy, but they are not affected by those events and by the tragic in general. The human protagonists, on the contrary, are both subjects and object of tragedy. Bradley (the male voice), Bamber, Aldelman, Rose, Alfar: notwithstanding their diversity, one common vision seems to run through their readings of the play. All acknowledge an absence of the feminine other from the space of tragedy, and read Lady Macbeth as what a potential, autonomous otherness has been reduced to under the realm of the same be the latter the psychological Self as in Bamber, the heroic male stereotype as in Rose, or Alfars patriarchal system. Alfar is the only one to step out from this vision, which is her starting point as well. When it comes to an analysis of gender in tragedy, the woman is seen as irredeemably out. But this out means in fact in (as assimilation to male desires or projection of male anxieties). There is no sexual difference, we could say about the tragedy of Macbeth as read by these critics. That this remains a question, and an irresolvable one, for definitions of both gender and genre in the play, is evident when we turn to the other space it disseminates there, the ethical space of tragedy.

Ethics and Gender The knot in which woman, the feminine, the human and tragedy come together in the play has relevance for another, important issue in the play, which I would also like to take into account: the ethical question. Can we talk about a gendered figuration of ethics and ethical thinking in the text? If so, this would make yet another realm that is underlain by the male/female binary in the play. And because that binary seems to be in place only to reiterate its own disruption, would it be the case that ethics too is affected by the obliteration that characterizes the gender differentiation? If so, to what effect? The evolution undergone by the Macbeths criminal minds in


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the play has fascinated scholars and philosophers, who have often turned to Macbeth to reflect upon the question of conscience. In 1916 Sigmund Freud wrote about the play:
Shakespeare often splits a character up into two personages, which, taken separately, are not completely understandable and do not become so until they are brought together once more into a unity. This might be so with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth. [] what he feared in his pangs of conscience is fulfilled in her; she becomes all remorse and he all defiance. Together they exhaust the possibilities of reaction to the crime, like two disunited parts of a single psychical individuality []. (Freud 1916)

Drawing on Freud, Ned Lukacher (1994) suggests that in Macbeth the complicity between the two characters be read as an allegory of conscience whose cypher is the linguistic and psychological clinging together of the Macbeths. As they are at once outside and inside one another (they know each others intentions even before the other utters them), the two can be said to present conscience as the space of a reversibility between inside and outside (Lukacher 1994: 185). Lukacher makes much of their clinging: insisting on the linguistic dimension of the fusion between the two characters, he states that it is in the singular, repeated idiom of cl-words (cling, clatter, clean) that the wreck of conscience is brought to presence: The cl- is Shakespeares idiom for the persistence of the rub of conscience (ibid.: 188). Lukacher does not stress it, but it is once more the transgressionelision of the boundary between man and woman implied by his analysis that takes place in the allegorization of conscience. The obliteration of gender difference happens in the emergence of conscience as languages clamour. In the clinging of language Lukacher reads the fact that the latter, like the conscience that clatters in it and that seems to have no human origin, cannot be manipulated, but will always have control over (be the rub for) those who believe they have a hold on it, regardless of gender. In this dimension of the human as always underlain, even hindranced by, conscience, man and woman disappear as gendered subjectivities, to be indeed a single psychical individuality.

Macbeth: Criticism, Gender and the Tragedy of the Human


The question of the moral complicity of the couple, factually evident in the exchange of the bloody daggers in 2.2, is similarly evoked in language. Katherine Rowe is among the critics who have drawn attention to the stichomythic dialogue in 2.2, as what, coming a few lines before the daggers episode, anticipates its display of their criminal complicity. The brief dialogue Rowe refers to, a sequence of interlaced lines in which Lady Macbeth and Macbeth finish each others fractured thoughts (Rowe 2004: 130), is the following:
Macb. I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise? Lady M. I heard the owl scream, and the crickets cry. Did not you speak? Macb. When? Lady M. Now. Macb. As I descended? Lady M. Ay. Macb. Hark! (2.2.14-18)

In this form of dialogue, rarely used by Shakespeare before this play (Rowe: 130), there is a rendering of the complementarity of the two as murderers. It tacitly counterbalances Lady Macbeths affirmation that: My hands are of your colour; but I shame / To wear a heart so white (2.2.63-64), where she, immediately after the murder of Duncan, still looks for terms of differentiation between her husband and herself. If her attempt is supported by the plays more general strategy of keeping woman and the female evil apart from humanity and of making her not of the earth, it is in the stichomythic articulation of language that the separation is undermined. As a play concerned with murder, Macbeth does not stop at showing the many assassinations to make its point about the kings bloody and tyrannical reign, but it has its protagonist carry out a sustained reflection on the meaning of murder, on what killing another human being can mean for the one who kills. Lady Macbeth has often been considered the instigator of her husbands crimes: she too is in blood / Steppd in [] far (3.5.135-6). Yet the ethical


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thinking is Macbeths alone. For Aristotle ethical reasoning is the human activity that, when practised, would always lead to good action. In Macbeth it is genderinflected. It is J. Gregory Keller who has recently argued for the presence of ethical reasoning in the text. Yet ethical thinking, which always motivates to good acting, fails to produce the expected effect (good action) in the play, and Keller offers an investigation of the reasons for its failure. At the outset of his examination he asks: Does thinking make an ethical difference or does it fall short, at least in the case of Macbeth, of motivating to the good, even when, as Arendt would say, the chips are down? (Keller 2005: 42) He takes his cue from Hannah Arendts definition of evil as thoughtless action, to which he opposes his view of evil action as that induced not (or possibly not only) when thinking is absent, but rather when it is overcome by the emotional and the volitional. Keller reads Macbeths long reflection in 1.7 (If it were done, when tis done) as the ethical reasoning that makes him give up the idea of killing the king. In that scene, as he lingers between the thought of the murder and the murder itself, Macbeth considers the consequences of the deed, and two more elements which are against the act: the law of hospitality (Hes here in double trust, 1.7.12) and the worth of the king, which would be lost with his death (his virtues plead[ing] like angels, 1.7.18-9). These all make strong reasons not to act; stronger, in fact, than the reasons to act (ambition and the gaining of power). Yet, when in that same scene Macbeth meets his wife, immediately after the solitary reflection, he is overcome by her counter-argument and persuaded again to accomplish the deed. Macbeths ethical reasoning is overcome by Lady Macbeths incitation to evil desire and ambition. His ruin or tragedy is a feminine ending to male ethical thinking. Keller sees in Macbeths reasoning in 1.7, when he is alone, the intellectual quality of man, the ability to think that leads to the just decision against the assassination of Duncan. So why is it that such resolution is won out by Lady Macbeth? Keller accounts for Macbeths intellectual capitulation in these terms:

Macbeth: Criticism, Gender and the Tragedy of the Human


Ethical thinking that appeals only to intellect what most thinking amounts to falls quickly before the power of feeling, desiring, willing, hoping, and fearing. The intellectual argument of Macbeth with himself proved strong only during the inner dialogue that isolated intellect from feeling and willing. The actual and effective spur for his intent appears in the emotional appeal of the counter-arguments of Lady Macbeth. (Keller 2005: 48)

Keller does not make gender an issue in his argument, but in the light of his analysis I want to investigate the gender inflection that ethical thinking takes on in Macbeth. For here it is evidently the masculine ability for ethical reasoning that submits to the feminine evil conscience (Kellers definition) Lady Macbeth stands for, to the feminine emotionality she appeals to. His ethical thinking is overcome by her appeal to the emotional and the volitional which, under the lens of gender, are therefore also connoted as feminine. If we are persuaded by Kellers argument (and I am persuaded by it), of the two protagonists it is Macbeth alone who is capable of ethical reasoning. But his ethical thought is incomplete, as it were, and Lady Macbeths counter-arguments, more than just an evil instigation to crime, are rather the touchstone and even test-bed to measure his ethical strength. Against her rock Macbeths ethics founders. Kellers is the first analysis of Macbeth, among those cited here, to imply a differentiation rather than assimilation between the male and female subject positions. He does not produce an analysis of language in this sense. What would we find if we approached the text with his examination in mind? Would Shakespeares textuality support the differentiation? Keller acknowledges that Macbeths thinking is opposed to his desire to kill Duncan, to his vaulting ambition (ibid.: 47). According to Philippa Berry, vaulting is a feminine quality of ambition; it is one among the many rhetorical turns of the play she reads as feminine (Berry 1999). In other words, the text gives a gender inflection to ambition; but it is Macbeth, the male hero, who acknowledges its feminine and ruinous course. Yet he cannot resist it: the feminine enters the space of manliness and masculinity, takes on its values (ambition) and de-


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stroys the masculine reason. When it comes to ethics, the mingling of the feminine and the masculine (as in the vaulting ambition) only leads to destruction.

Knowledge and Gender In 1.7 Macbeths ethical thinking shows us that he knows what is right and what is not. Knowledge is an issue in Macbeth. It is after his first encounter with the witches that Macbeth [turns] from being an active soldier [] to being a man of reflection (Kinney 2004: 24). With Macbeth, knowledge is a matter of spying (ibid.: 12), as he confides to his wife: Theres not a one of them, but in his house / I keep a servant feed (3.4.130-1). Arthur F. Kinney has discussed the question of Macbeths knowledge. He reads in that apparently offhanded statement a resonance with the Jacobean cultural context and the necessity of surveillance as a strategy of rule, at a time of conspiracies against the monarchic rule of James I. What is especially relevant about his historicist analysis, for me, is the consideration that
Macbeth deals not so much with How do you know? but What do you do with the knowledge you have? and how do you prevent the lure of the imagination when reason seems to fail. (Ibid.: 25-6)

Lady Macbeth is resolute in planning action after reading the letter where the witches prophecy is disclosed to her. On the contrary, Banquo does nothing with the knowledge he has received first-hand from the witches: he does not say a word about the prophecy, not even after the murder of Duncan. The nurse instead turns to the doctor to share the knowledge that the murderous and already irredeemably distracted Lady Macbeth has unwillingly disclosed to her. As for Macbeth, he is the character for whom knowledge is more a question of the knowable; all he learns in his ruinous course is never definite and it always requires interpretation. His knowledge comes from the witches equivocal speeches, which are doubly ambiguous: because structurally so and because they are from a different realm,

Macbeth: Criticism, Gender and the Tragedy of the Human


beyond the human.2 Kinney distinguishes between a knowledge that comes from the faculty of reason and the hallucinations induced by imagination. In Macbeth, the main character is deluded when he thinks he has the intelligence of, we may say, one who is acquaint[ed] with the perfect spy othtime (3.1.129) no less than when he overtly acknowledges he is prey of a mind full of scorpions (3.2.36). In this respect Kinney writes: When the basis of Macbeths knowledge observation, reason, logic, surveillance turns to image-making, surrenders its powers of comprehension to the imagination, he loses direction (Kinney 2004: 26). The question is that in Macbeth everything that happens is unknowable, in the sense of being too horrific to be known (Look ont it again I dare not 2.2.51). This is why its knowledge leads the all-too-human Lady Macbeth to madness. Stanley Cavell defines Macbeth as one haunted by knowledge whose authority he cannot impeach (Cavell 1987: 96). Of course, tragedy is the question of knowledge. For Cavell:
[] Shakespeares plays interpret and reinterpret the skeptical problematic the question whether I know with certainty of the existence of the external world and of myself and others in it [] [and] find no stable solution to skepticism []. (Cavell 1987: 3)

The in-human element in Macbeth turns scepticism into a madness for the human mind. This is more evident in the woman character, who, when she finally acknowledges her knowledge of the deed, finding it unbearable seeks a way out in her distracted sleepwalking. Macbeth will instead test his sufferance of the unknowable: he will deliberately go back to the witches to get more of their truths. The ambiguity he gets is the epistemological space he deserves as one who has defied the humane statute.

2 Interestingly, the word Hecate is a form of Heqit, the name of one of the oldest goddesses of predynastic Egypt, which is supposedly derived from the Egyptian word for intelligence. See Addison Roberts (1991: 172).


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The Feminine Endings of Tragedy By way of conclusion. In Of Ambition (1625), Francis Bacon refers to ambition using the masculine possessive adjective his (Bacon 1996: 414); characteristically, and unsurprisingly, in the same essay Bacon also sees ambition as being a quality of men. In No Passport (2006), a theatrical performance directed by Fabio Acca, the Italian actress Vanda Monaco recites the Tomorrow, and tomorrow speech from Macbeth attired as a hooker, androgynous in her appearance, almost evoking a transvestite, and concludes the speech by adding, as she performs a somersault: Sono un capovolgimento, sono unattrice (I am a capsizing, I am an actress). In her sophisticated analysis of the feminine endings of Shakespearean tragedy, Philippa Berry reads the vaulting ambition in Macbeth as one of the many feminine rhetorical turns she detects in Shakespeares language. The imbrications of a discussion of the human with definitions of gender difference are a well-known feature of Macbeth. The textual space of tragedy is ultimately dis-figured by the constant confusion between manliness and humanity that the extensive wordplay helps to produce. One exemplary exchange will suffice to remind us of the insistence with which a slippage from the difference between man and woman to that between human and inhuman occurs in the play:
Lady M. Are you a man? M. Ay, and a bold one, that dare look on that Which might appal the Devil. (3.4.57-8)

Here Macbeth has just seen the ghost of Banquo. Lady Macbeth insists on the sense of man as a gender category; here as elsewhere, she repeats the construction of manliness and masculinity as a hierarchy between man and woman. Macbeth, on the contrary, uses the word man in its wider sense of human and humane. (Elsewhere, the invocation to unsex her, because it is to the spirits, i.e.

Macbeth: Criticism, Gender and the Tragedy of the Human


to in-human entities, is the one moment when Lady Macbeth conflates the two meanings of being human and a woman and asks to be rid of both.) It is the work of, among others, some acute readers of the figurality of Shakespeares language, namely Patricia Parker, Marjorie Garber, Susan Zimmerman and Philippa Berry, which has given an important contribution to the exploration of the textual question of gender in Macbeth. In a deconstructive reading that combines attention to the historical and cultural dimensions of a text with an even more attentive ear to its figural dimension, Berry persuasively proves her thesis about a dis-figuring of tragedy that takes place by way of a tropic feminine in Shakespeare. As she sums up,
Shakespearean tragedy performs [] [an] extensive interrogation of tragic sensibility, as countless puns and other tropes that emphasize the open bodily ends of women (and sometimes, those of men) enunciate a subtle differing a disfiguring both of tragic discourse and of concepts of death as bodily extinction. [] [In Shakespearean tragedy] a repetitive pattern of feminine or feminized tropes performs an allusive reweaving both of tragic teleology and of orthodox conceptions of death. (Ibid.: 3)

The textuality of Macbeth offers a constant transgressing of the borders between male and female, masculine and feminine: Duncans corpse is the new Gorgon which petrifies those who dare look on it, functioning besides as a composite image for the representation of gender indeterminacy in both Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (Zimmerman 2001: 320); the witches are women with beards; the vaulting ambition (1.7.27) is a feminine rhetorical turn. The feminine ending in Macbeths tragedy is ultimately this crossing of borders, a general undecidability of gender difference. Freud found it difficult to deal with the play and admitted his inability to find a solution for it (quoted in Lukacher 1994: 169). I argue that it is the question of gender and its slippages (manwoman-inhuman) as the underlying motif of Macbeth which confound and resist reading. In contemporary criticism that deals with gender, knowledge and ethics in the play it is possible to see alterna-


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tively an argument for the texts own obliteration of the feminine difference and a critical approach that is itself less inclined to make sense of that difference. There cannot be any unifying narrative on the topic. But it seems to me that Macbeths success in rejecting a definitive perspective has everything to do with its play on gender character-wise, linguistic, figurative.

REFERENCES Adelman J., 1992, Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeares Plays, Hamlet to The Tempest, Routledge, New York and London. Addison Roberts J., 1991, The Shakespearean Wild: Geography, Genus, and Gender, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London. Alfar C.L., 2003, Fantasies of Female Evil: The Dynamics of Gender and Power in Shakespearean Tragedy, Associated University Presses, Newark and London. Bacon F., 1996, Francis Bacon. A Critical Edition of the Major Works, (ed.) B. Vickers, Oxford U.P., Oxford. Bamber L., 1982, Comic Women, Tragic Men: A Study of Gender and Genre in Shakespeare, Stanford U.P., Stanford. Berry P., 1999, Shakespeares Feminine Endings: Disfiguring Death in the Tragedies, Routledge, London and New York. Bradley A.C., [1904] 1981, Shakespearean Tragedy: Lectures on Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Macmillan, London. Cavell S., 1987, Disowning Knowledge in Six Plays of Shakespeare, Cambridge U.P., Cambridge. Freud S., 1916, Some Character-types Met With In Psycho-Analytical Work, <http://web.singnet.com.sg/~yisheng/notes/shakespeare/mbeth_f.htm>. Garber M., 2004, Shakespeare After All, Anchor Books, New York. Keller J.G., 2005, The Moral Thinking of Macbeth, Philosophy and Literature 29, pp. 41-56. Kinney A.F., 2004, Macbeths Knowledge, Shakespeare Survey 57, Macbeth and Its Afterlife, (ed.) P. Holland, pp. 11-26. Lukacher, N., 1994, Shakespeare and the Question of Conscience, Cornell U.P., Ithaca and London. Rose M.B., 2002, Gender and Heroism in Early Modern English Literature, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London. Rowe K., 2004, The Politics of Sleepwalking: American Lady Macbeths, Shakespeare Survey 57, Macbeth and Its Afterlife, (ed.) P. Holland, pp. 126-36. Shakespeare W., 1984, Macbeth, The Arden Shakespeare, (ed.) Kenneth Muir, Routledge, London and New York. Zimmerman S., 2001, Duncans Corpse, in D. Callaghan (ed.), A Feminist Companion to Shakespeare, Blackwell, Malden (MA) and Oxford, pp. 320-38.