The world of that Shakespeare creates in most of his plays consists of portraying strong and influential women in a negative light while boasting men’s similar power. The same applies to Macbeth. Robert Kimbrough analyzes the fierce war between manhood and womanhood through the perspective of humanhood by understanding the fear of “social destructiveness of polarized masculinity and femininity” in a close reading of one of the most famous of Shakespeare’s works. He shows how the Shakespearean era valued masculinity over feminist tenderness with a close reading of Siward and Malcolm’s conversation about the death of King Duncan, which shows Shakespeare’s definition of human death involved “manly” courage and “womanly” sorrow.
Borough then explains how Shakespeare emphasizes the difference between the Macbeths’ murderous masculinity and an ideal of the natural as “good, balanced, positive, normal, generative, and healing.” He declares Lady Macbeth’s unsex me speech as unnatural because of a double context that the witches have the ability to change a woman into a man but not a man into a woman. The language suggests that her womanhood, represented by breasts and milk, usually symbols of nurture, hinders her from violence and cruelty, which she associates with masculinity. This sense of the connection between masculinity and violence is deepened when Macbeth is unwilling to commit the murders and his wife tells him that he needs to “be a man” and perform like one too.
Kimbrough evaluates Macbeth’s descent into despair and Lady Macbeth’s descent to madness while simultaneously including other character’s lines of blatant masculinity, like the two hired murderers that say “We are men, my liege.” Lady Macbeth also shows to question Macbeth’s manliness as she asks him if he is a man when he sees Banquo’s ghost. Kimbrough deepens the hole of irony in the characterization and eventual fall of the two leads through the choice of verbose.
Kimbrough does an excellent job in picking the right and most pertaining passages in Macbeth to further evaluate his analysis on the proposed thesis that is very thorough and contributes to the long-debated question about masculinity in Macbeth. I will use some of his examples in my own essay and make his argument the foundation of my analysis on the topic.
An article by Stacey Hibbs and Thomas Hibbs titled, Virtue, Natural Law, and Supernatural Solicitation: A Thomastic Reading of Macbeth, delves into a close reading of Macbeth through the lense of Thomas Aquinas to exhibit how the plot and character decisions closely reflect the philosophical and theological teachings of Aquinas. Specifically, the use of Aquinas’s theory of virtue, natural law, and the supernatural are used to explain why some characters reflect what Aquinas describes as truly good, all things that are actualized, or natural evil, “a lack of an appropriate perfection” (Hibbs’ 277) This article inquires into this topic through a close reading of Macbeth along with many excerpts from Aquinas’s work in Summa Contra Gentiles, along with many other accredited philosophers, theologians, and scholars. Stacey Hibbs and Thomas Hibbs use the work of outside sources to both accredit and challenge Aquinas’s theory as it relates to the work of Macbeth, and then they strategically pull pieces of dialogue or monologue from Macbeth that speak to the teachings of Aquinas through most all the characters. They do a thorough job of covering most of Macbeth, but my specific interest lies in their reading of the supernatural forces that take place in Macbeth and how Thomas Aquinas would explain the role of the supernatural in relation to the world of man, the supernatural consisting of witches, miraculous Kings, and the Grace of God, and how these forces can guide us to the natural good of humanity unless we lead ourselves away in temptation towards the inhuman. So their focus on the prophecy of the Weird Sisters and the “divine Grace” Malcolm speaks of are what connect my question to their work (Hibbs 291). The article is thorough and convincing in its claim that Macbeth reflects Aquinas’s theory. They leave little room for holes in their reading, and the holes they do leave they continue to question which suggests that their inquisition is never complete which is ultimately a sign of thoughtful inquiry. They were specific with the examples they used, and detailed in their analysis of each one, leaving little room to disagree with their reading of Macbeth as it relates to Aquinas. This article has contributed to the formation of my question of inquiry and how I might possibly view it through the teachings of Aquinas. I now know my question to be, how does the supernatural and divine found in Macbeth guide it’s characters to either a human or inhuman state, and with this article I can offer an argument for and against my question with Aquinas’s theory and regarding the role of the supernatural in human decisions, and whether that role exists to lead us astray or not.
Hibbs, Stacey and Thomas Hibbs. “Virtue, Natural Law, and Supernatural Solicitation: A Thomistic Reading of Shakespeare’s Macbeth.” Religion & the Arts, vol. 5, no. 3, Sept. 2001, pp. 273-296. EBSCOhost, login.proxy.library.emory.edu/login?url=https://search-ebscohost-com.proxy.library.emory.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=6109694&site=ehost-live.