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Thread: Macbeth, impotent and therefore childless

  1. #1
    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Macbeth, impotent and therefore childless

    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    It is about sexual frustration, and its affects. The whole play shows how Macbeth, unable to perform sexually, and have a child with Lady M, tries to satisfy her by making her a queen, and thereby brings about their downfall.
    What evidence is there to support this sexual interpretation of the play?

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    Registered User jgweed's Avatar
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    An interesting idea, as most psychology is, but I have always read the relationship between M and LadyM as corresponding to the old story of the fisherman who catches a magic fish and his overly ambitious wife. Or: political hubris.
    Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    Historically Macbeth was actually the second husband of Lady M. The first one actually had a son with her before being murdered with the son in a bloody manner. Throughout the play Lady M seems to allude to such things;

    The first time she merely hints at it;
    The raven himself is hoarse
    That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
    Under my battlements. Come, you spirits
    That tend on mortal thoughts! unsex me here,
    And fill me from the crown to the toe, top-full
    Of direst cruelty; make thick my blood,
    Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
    That no compunctious visitings of nature
    Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
    The effect and it! Come to my woman's breasts,
    And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
    Wherever in your sightless substances
    You wait on nature's mischief!
    Lady Macbeth, scene v

    Notice how she talks about her femininity, especially about her "Woman's breasts, / And take my milk for gall" It would appear here that she is not conscious of an unfemininity on her part, and an inability to have a child. Why then is there no child, if, after all, Macbeth is so adamant on having one.

    We see here a more direct reference;

    I have given suck, and know
    How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
    I would, while it was smiling in my face,
    Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
    And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn
    As you have done to this.

    Lady Macbeth, scene vii

    Here it appears Lady M is tormenting Macbeth with the idea that he fails to preform. She mentions the dead child as a means to beguile him for being impotent. The child here represents Macbeth's failure, and her words cut into him because he is afraid of his failing masculinity. He is unable to preform sexually, and therefore must prove himself on the battlefield, first at the beginning of the play, and now by making her a Queen.

    Banquo's part in the play also seems to stem from this as well. Macbeth believes Banquo to be the father of a line of kings, and therefore becomes afraid of his own place. He fears he will never be able to create a son, and continue the line, and therefore tries to remove Banquo, as a way of proving to himself that he can cheat fate. He, of course, fails to kill Banquo's son, and thereby brings about his own doom. He is therefore cautious of the fact that his reign will end with his death, and seeks to change fate by removing everyone in his way. Lady M, of course, cannot react well to this, and rather than stay by him, drifts away into madness because of the memories of her past haunting her, and the parallels in her life being similar to those of Banquo and Lady MacDuff.

    Later on in the play we are greeted with even more evidence. The witches' prophesy seems to be full of child images, haunting Macbeth even more with the realization that he will not have a child, and will not every satisfy Lady Macbeth, who is now mad at him for ruining their party by seeing the ghost of Banquo, and thereby almost giving them away.

    It is these images that torment him until the very end, when finally Lady M kills herself, and he sees his fated defeat coming to him, he says the famous speech:

    She should have died hereafter;
    There would have been time for such a word.
    Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
    Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
    To the last syllable of recorded time;
    And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
    The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
    Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
    And then is heard no more. It is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.

    Shakespeare of course, from his sonnets, alludes to his thoughts of children being the representation of the parents after death. This seems to ring true in this play, with Macbeth realizing there is nothing left in the world for him, and going sword drawn to his doom, knowing that he has nothing. His only hope is the last witch prophesy, which even at this point, he knows to be a trick.
    Last edited by JBI; 05-24-2008 at 04:27 PM.

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    Registered User jgweed's Avatar
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    Another reading, perhaps, of LM's lines is that she is rejecting the traditional role of the eternal feminine and repudiating the role of motherhood so that she can harden herself to accomplish the projects she has in mind.
    One of the glories of Shakespeare's characters is that the more you think about them, the harder they become to characterise one way or the other, and their ability to be interpreted from many perspectives.
    Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    "I have given suck, and know
    How tender 'tis to love the babe that milks me:
    I would, while it was smiling in my face,
    Have pluck'd my nipple from his boneless gums,
    And dash'd the brains out, had I so sworn
    As you have done to this." seems to disagree.

  6. #6
    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    There seems no explicit evidence in the play to support a sexual interpretation; implicit evidence is less than overwhelming. That Macbeth was historically the second husband of Lady Macbeth, and the dreadful fate of her family, does make good sense in the play.

    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    Why then is there no child, if, after all, Macbeth is so adamant on having one.
    Perhaps, infertility (his of hers) rather than impotence? I see little evidence that heroic Macbeth is ‘afraid of his failing masculinity’, although she taunts him mercilessly. If impotence, the bard would have relished sexual innuendo as he does so often elsewhere! Certainly, ‘Macbeth believes Banquo to be the father of a line of kings, and therefore becomes afraid of his own place’. But is it certain that Macbeth will be forever childless? And, if so, does he bemoans the fact? After all, a child would have little impact on the witches' prophesy concerning Banquo's line.

    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    He is therefore cautious of the fact that his reign will end with his death, and seeks to change fate by removing everyone in his way. Lady M, of course, cannot react well to this, and rather than stay by him, drifts away into madness because of the memories of her past haunting her, and the parallels in her life being similar to those of Banquo and Lady MacDuff.
    I had not appreciated that Macbeth’s bloody and escalating defiance is a major factor in his wife’s madness. Are the ‘parallels’ you mention, only comprehensible with historical knowledge of Lady Macbeth’s earlier marriage – information that is absent from the play?

    In his final speech, “She should have died hereafter…”, I see no allusion to his sexuality and, at best, only an implicit reference to his lack of an heir. Macbeth echoes The Preacher in Ecclesiastes, “All is vanity”.

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    They perhaps cannot be read without past history of Macbeth, but who is to say how much the audience knew? King James I had just assumed the thrown, and being Scottish he probably did have the history, not to mention the fact that the text Shakespeare based his work from Raphael Holinshed, who could be assumed to have been widely read. Either way, it is clear to almost all readers that sexual frustration is interwoven in the play in some way or another. The choice to believe in Macbeth as impotent or not is up to the reader.

    I drew the conclusion of impotence because if I recall correctly, in that time period it was usually women who were thought to be the cause of childlessness. Impotence would negate that question for the play.

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    the beloved: Gladys's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    it is clear to almost all readers that sexual frustration is interwoven in the play in some way or another
    Do others on this forum agree that Macbeth is sexually frustrated?

    What's the best evidence in support?

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    The deterioration of his relationship with Lady M of course, and how they go from "equal partner in greatness" to "dearest chuck". Almost all overview readings I have seen on the play tend to focus, at least in some respect, on their relationship, and its crumbling. How does one go from equal partner in greatness to dearest chuck, and then finally "Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow" without some relationship struggle.

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    Tu le connais, lecteur... Kafka's Crow's Avatar
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    All relationships in these tragedies are crumbling. Shakespeare wrote about times that were "out of joint." Renaissance had put everything in question. The traditional values were questioned everywhere and there was fear and hope, there was a "brave new world" in the process of being born whereas the old medieval setup was on its last legs. All four great tragedies depict "unnatural" acts leading to tragic consequences. Lady Macbeth just represents these topsy-turvy conditions: she the hostess (protector), the female (life-giver) becomes the instrument of evil and instigator of death. Medieval age put huge emphasis on naturalness of acts and the 'natural' order of things. Rennaisance bluntly questioned those beliefs. Shakespeare's plays depict, among many other things, the confusion caused by this transition.
    "The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the sh1t the more I am grateful to him..."
    -- Harold Pinter on Samuel Beckett

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    It's strange, all the female characters in the play seem to be manifestations of Lady Macbeth, as seen by Macbeth. The Weird Sisters and Hecate a manifestation of the evilness of Lady M, and Lady MacDuff a representation of her "feminine" virtues, I.E job as wife and mother. Macbeth seems to, with killing Lady MacDuff, destroy that aspect of his wife, and remove it from the play, and then goes on to mingle more with the aspects of the witches.

    It is also strange to tie in the "unsex me now" speech, and the witches' beards, and masculine imagery, and the later feminine/masculine questions that surround MacDuff when he gets the bad news.

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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    It's strange, all the female characters in the play seem to be manifestations of Lady Macbeth, as seen by Macbeth. The Weird Sisters and Hecate a manifestation of the evilness of Lady M, and Lady MacDuff a representation of her "feminine" virtues, I.E job as wife and mother. Macbeth seems to, with killing Lady MacDuff, destroy that aspect of his wife, and remove it from the play, and then goes on to mingle more with the aspects of the witches.

    It is also strange to tie in the "unsex me now" speech, and the witches' beards, and masculine imagery, and the later feminine/masculine questions that surround MacDuff when he gets the bad news.
    As I said earlier, the natural order of things is disturbed and nothing is as it should be. Greed, ambition, murder, ungratefulness, regicide, deception and falsehood have overthrown all the virtues. In this situation don't expect any positive outcomes. The stage is set for a grand tragedy. Now let murder and treachery take their course and let the perpetrators pay the price!
    "The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the sh1t the more I am grateful to him..."
    -- Harold Pinter on Samuel Beckett

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    Registered User jgweed's Avatar
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    If the whole idea of chivalry and its special status for women is associated with the natural order of things, then certainly this role is repudiated by Lady M in that speech.
    Macbeth's ambition might have been awakened by the three witches, but it was LadyM that kept urging him to take action when he was indecisive. Perhaps there was somewhat of a role-reversal between M and LadyM.

    And might one argue that this unsustainable (because "unnatural") "role-reversal" contributed to her insanity and suicide?
    Cheers,
    John
    Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

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    Bibliophile JBI's Avatar
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    The 3 witches are Lady Macbeth, that's what I'm trying to say. Everything is a manifestation of Duncan the father, Lady M, the mother/wife, and Banquo, the friend, who he eventually recreates as the father, and kills. All the imagery flows around those 3 concepts.

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    Registered User Beewulf's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JBI View Post
    They perhaps cannot be read without past history of Macbeth, but who is to say how much the audience knew? King James I had just assumed the thrown, and being Scottish he probably did have the history, not to mention the fact that the text Shakespeare based his work from Raphael Holinshed, who could be assumed to have been widely read. Either way, it is clear to almost all readers that sexual frustration is interwoven in the play in some way or another. The choice to believe in Macbeth as impotent or not is up to the reader.

    I drew the conclusion of impotence because if I recall correctly, in that time period it was usually women who were thought to be the cause of childlessness. Impotence would negate that question for the play.
    I agree that it is difficult to determine what Shakespeare or his audience knew of the actual history of the women who became Macbeth's wife. Familiarity with Hollingshed wouldn't have mattered because he makes scant mention of her and doesn't refer to a previous marriage. Moreover, the story of Macbeth is just one incident in a lengthy, multivolume work.

    Given the fact that knowledge of Lady Macbeth's actual life was extremely limited and that no on in Macbeth refers to a previous marriage, it appears that we are meant to understand that the Lady Macbeth's child was fathered by Macbeth. In "Lady Macbeth's Indispensable Child," Marvin Rosenberg writes,

    History may insist that [Lady Macbeth's] child was not sired by Macbeth; but Shakespeare carefully censored Lady Macbeth's earlier marriage, and no spectator--except the few burdened with excessive learning--could possibly, in the playwright's time or subsequently, have suspected. Shakespeare begins with a loving pair, and tells us unequivocally--in a play full of equivocation--that they have had a child. (14)

    Rosenberg points out that Macbeth's concern for succession is one of the motivating factors in Macbeth's desire to have Fleance killed, for as Macbeth reveals in Act III, scene i

    [Banquo] chid the sisters
    When first they put the name of king upon me,
    And bade them speak to him: then prophet-like
    They hail'd him father to a line of kings:
    Upon my head they placed a fruitless crown,
    And put a barren sceptre in my gripe,
    Thence to be wrench'd with an unlineal hand,
    No son of mine succeeding. If 't be so,
    For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind;

    In other words, Macbeth seems very concerned about making ensuring a son will be able to inherit what he's stolen. This, coupled with the what Lady Macbeth says about having a child, appears to indicate that Macbeth is not meant to be viewed as impotent.

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