Representation of gender in The Crucible and Macbeth

June 13, 2019 by Essay Writer

Drama is the performance of a narrative by actors on stage, and differs from prose fiction in that it is interpreted and presented by others rather than the individual viewer. The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, is a drama that illustrates a theocratic society corrupted by expectations and pressure to maintain a respectable reputation. These ideas are highlighted in the text through the use of dramatic conventions such as dialogue, stage directions, body language and lighting. Another play: Macbeth, written by William Shakespeare, conveys a similar message of the manipulation and exploitation that is experienced by mankind. This manifests itself through the use of character development and relationships as well as language and symbolism. Both of these texts make comment on what it is to be a man or a woman, and how each gender is expected to conform in order to meet society’s expectations. However they do differ in the way they communicate this message to their audience.

David Gilmore explains manhood as “a precarious or artificial state that boys must win against powerful odds.” It is a concept that has a significant impact on the minds of men, who are constantly faced with the expectation of being a strong and powerful figure. The notion of masculinity has a major impact in The Crucible because it affects the decision-making and overall personalities of some of the characters, who struggle to come to terms with what it is to be a man. One character whose personality is moulded by this concept is Danforth: a harsh judge whose intentions are to convict as many people as possible. The reasons behind his actions are simple; he wishes to remain respected and superior as a judge and as a person. The more dominant and powerful a person can appear, the more masculine society tells them they are. Danforth makes many irrational decisions to get people to see that he will not be taken lightly nor will he step down from his pedestal, he demonstrates this by ignoring the truths presented to him. In the closing scene of the play he can be seen begging Proctor to confess saying things like, “You will give me your honest confession in my hand, or I cannot keep you from the rope.” The tone of his voice is angry and despairing, indicating how desperate he is to have this confession in his hand so he may maintain his reputation. He also ignores Proctors pleas due to the fear of being proven wrong because it would cause him to show signs of “weakness,” making him seem less powerful. John Proctor is another character in Miller’s play whose actions are navigated by his overwhelming need to protect his reputation and thus his masculinity. This is evident in the final Act when he yells, “Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life!” His name is a representation of everything he has gained in life, his family, his land and his reputation. This explains the immense emotion present in his body language and dialogue as he feels that by signing his name to lie he is throwing away his dignity and forgoing his masculinity.

William Shakespeare did not have much faith in traditional gender roles, and this is evident through his constant subversion of these roles in the submission of men. In a similar way to Arthur Miller he illustrates his feelings that much was amiss in society, with the pressure of gender conformation and stereotypes playing heavily on peoples actions. His results are striking in the creation of a cast who each represent something unique about humanity. Two of his male characters, in Macbeth and Macduff, are crucial to exploring the notion of what it is to be a man. Macbeth knows what he must do, that is kill Duncan, but he needs something more to spur him on because as Lady Macbeth says he is “too full o’th’milk of human kindness.” This implies that he is too full of womanly qualities, through the metaphor of carrying milk like a mother would. She sees him as too feminine which leads her to compensate for him by saying things such as, “unsex me here,” and “come to my woman’s breast and take my milk for gall.” As the gender roles begin to subvert Shakespeare’s vision of the unnatural masculine figure becomes clear. Macbeth represents a figure struggling with the idea of being a man, and due to external influences is conflicted as to whether feeling emotions and upholding morals is acceptable for a man of his status. Another character who presents an aspect of what is to be a man is Macduff, who at a pivotal moment of the play, demonstrates tremendous courage, compassion and self-assuredness as he is told to take the news of his families murder “like a man.” To which he retorts, “I shall do so/But I must also feel it as a man.” This line serves as an accusation of the Macbeth’s for believing that sensitivity is unbecoming of a man. In the final Act of the play it is shown that Macduff is the person that is finally able to kill Macbeth, demonstrating that he is in fact the stronger one of the two men. Macduff may be Shakespeare’s ideal vision of a man, or at least, one ideal vision of a man; but there is not just one ideal, because, as the play indicates, it is more important for a person to know themselves than try to live up to an ideal set forth by anyone else.

The notion of feminism is a growing movement with the intention to abolish any inequalities that women may face in comparison to men. Although Macbeth does explore the stereotypical role of women through his characters of Lady Macduff, he also illustrates an attempt at breaking free from any lingering ideas of femininity in the form of Lady Macbeth. Perhaps the greatest way of showing this is in the line, “I have given suck and know how tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me: I would while it was smiling…have plucked my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed he brains out.” This demonstrates how removed Lady Macbeth is from her femininity, which she clearly believes was limiting her ability to commit any act of horror or to achieve what she truly wants. It is her fiery desire to “unsex” herself that reveals some of the problems with the traditional female identity; her words and actions are the result of her frustrations with her perceived natural limits. Her estranged ability to manipulate her male counterpart of Macbeth, through a feminist lens, challenges the notion of a patriarchal society of which she lives in, indicating that her character was created to challenge rather than endorse norms. In comparison the character of Lady Macduff is one that does conform to the standards of society, as she fills the role of a marginalized and subordinate female. She refers to herself as “his wife,” which indicates that she views herself as no more than a mans property and she continues to say “his babes, his mansion, and his titles,” demonstrating that nothing is her own. These characters show two contrasting representations of the female form and perhaps reflect the turmoil that was occurring in society with women realizing their strengths and beginning to manipulate their oppressors. From the very beginning of the play Shakespeare disrupts the notions of femininity with the physical description of the witches portraying them as masculine, withered and wild that reflects in their hunched body language and dark attire. This is exaggerated with Banquo going as far as to say, “You should be women, And yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so.” This allows readers to see the confusion, which is a major theme in Macbeth, that is created because of Shakespeare’s ability to question norms.

In a similar way Arthur Miller, in The Crucible, creates strong female characters such as Abigail Williams, who disrupt the natural order, and to add a basis for comparison he has more stereotypical characters such as Elizabeth Proctor and Mary Warren. These latter females are forced to portray a delicate, victimized role due to the masculine power that is oppressing them, making it so that they cannot gain the full respect that they deserve. One way that these women are held back is the great pressure placed on them to meet the expectation of others and to not draw unwanted attention, this is demonstrated when Abigail proclaims, “My name is good in the village! I will not have it say my name is soiled!” Additionally the oppression they experience, from men, contributes to their submission, for example when John Proctor yells at Mary Warren, his female slave, “How do you go to Salem when I forbid it? …I’ll whip you if you dare leave this house again.” This demonstrates the lack of political power and general control women had over their own lives in a time where being able to speak out was so crucial. However the character of Abigail is able to successfully manipulate many of the characters, especially men, because of her beauty and sexuality that prevents them from seeing all of her lies and deceit: “Where she walks the crowd will part like the sea for Israel.” Additionally her absolute dictatorship over the court, even the powerful male figure of Judge Danforth, is evident when she begins to accuse women of witchcraft and immediately they are presumed guilty. This demonstrates that the hysteria and the witch trials reverse the gender roles – even the men in society such as Hale and Proctor have no say in the accusations, it also highlights the manipulative power of women, as shown in Macbeth. In a recent adaptation of this drama, Abigail was constantly using her body language in a seductive manner in order to manipulate characters such as Proctor to do as she says. Also the use of a dimmer lighting when the two characters were alone on stage added to the idea that she was using a romantic connection in order to deceive him. Although it is also mentioned that as soon as Proctor enters, Abigail “has stood as though on tiptoe, absorbing his presence, wide-eyed,” and Mary Warren “can barely speak for embarrassment and fear.” This indicates that although Miller portrays women as manipulative and flirtatious, they are ultimately far inferior to men, which endorses what society tells us.

“I dare do all that may become a man,” says Macbeth. This signifies that he is suffering from internal conflicts, particularly the question of what it is to be a man in both his wives eyes and his own. The drama Macbeth comments on the stereotypical gender roles and the problems this can cause when people are forced to conform and struggle to accept the associated and perceived limitations. Through the contrast of characters relationships such as the Macbeth’s and Macduff’s the audience is able to identify the different forms of gender that exist within society, and are left to interpret which they see as ideal. Shakespeare has discussed the idea of feminism, through Lady Macbeth, which suggests that he may have disagreed with society’s treatment of women and indicates that he did not have much faith in traditional gender roles. His unique and questionable representation of gender has clearly been done in order to stimulate the audience. Similarly Arthur Miller, in The Crucible, is making comment on a society corrupted by expectations and pressure to maintain ones reputation. His message manifests itself in the characters of Abigail, John Proctor, and Judge Danforth as well in non-verbal elements such as body language. Although his characters tend to better represent stereotypes of the era, Miller still strays from the norm as he presents the sexuality of women as a manipulative tool. As discussed both of these dramas tell of gender; the principal source of segregation and marginalization.

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