- Maria Moyles
Macbeth GCSE Revision Question for the AQA Paper
This is an extract from Act 1 Scene 6. The King has arrived at Macbeth’s castle and is greeted by Lady Macbeth.
Enter LADY MACBETH
See, see, our honour'd hostess! The love that follows us sometime is our trouble, Which still we thank as love. Herein I teach you How you shall bid God 'ild us for your pains, And thank us for your trouble.
All our service In every point twice done and then done double Were poor and single business to contend Against those honours deep and broad wherewith Your majesty loads our house: for those of old, And the late dignities heap'd up to them, We rest your hermits.
Where's the thane of Cawdor? We coursed him at the heels, and had a purpose To be his purveyor: but he rides well; And his great love, sharp as his spur, hath holp him To his home before us. Fair and noble hostess, We are your guest to-night.
Your servants ever Have theirs, themselves and what is theirs, in compt, To make their audit at your highness' pleasure, Still to return your own.
Give me your hand; Conduct me to mine host: we love him highly, And shall continue our graces towards him. By your leave, hostess.
Explore how Shakespeare presents women in this extract and in the play as a whole.
· Consider how Lady Macbeth is presented in this extract
· Consider how women and femininity are presented elsewhere in the play
Questions to ask yourself whilst planning your response:
1. Look at the extract first.
1a) What links are there to women?
1b) What ideas are being shared about women here?
1c) Consider in terms of context (AO3), does Shakespeare give us a traditional representation of women or an alternative one that challenges the norm? Why?
2. Consider now the rest of the play.
2a) Where else are women present in the play; select key moments where this theme or characters are present. (KEY - how many women are actually in this play?)
2b) What ideas does Shakespeare present about women at other moments in the play?
2c) In terms of context, as a whole does Shakespeare uphold the traditional idea of women at the time or does he challenge these ideas?
The Essay Plan:
Aim to write an essay with approximately five sections:
Define what is meant by women and set out your interpretation of how Shakespeare presents women as a theme in the extract and the whole play.
Questions to help:
1. What does it mean to be a woman specifically during Shakespeare’s time?
2. In the play, what sort of role do women take as a theme and why is it important?
3. In terms of Lady Macbeth, how does Shakespeare present her as a female character?
4. How does he construct her character to either uphold or challenge traditional ideas about femininity?
Aim for three sections of developed analysis that unpicks a central idea, with examples from the extract and/or the whole play with ANALYSIS of the methods that Shakespeare uses to illustrate these ideas (the language and structure used).
Consider, on balance, the overall representation of women and why Shakespeare made these choices.
An example except from an answer:
During Shakespearean times women and the concept of femininity were synonymous with weakness; women were typically subordinate figures, controlled and constrained by their male counterparts in a society deeply entrenched in patriarchy. Femininity is upheld as a restricting ideal in Macbeth - our only true female character is only able to escape its grip with the aid of the supernatural. Through supernatural soliciting Lady Macbeth appears able (albeit temporarily) to break free from the confines of her gender role and possess more traditionally masculine qualities of strength, control and callousness. However, despite all of the strength and control that she musters it is interesting to note that Shakespeare never fully allows her to escape patriarchy; she is forever bound to Macbeth, her success relies upon him, in this extract we are reminded of her lowly status as mere “hostess” and servant and, in the end, she regresses to the most stereotypical version of a 16th century woman - one whose mental fragility consumes her and results in her own demise.
This extract most notably serves to remind the audience of Lady Macbeth’s femininity - the very quality that has the power to limit hers and Macbeth’s ascent to the throne. It is interesting that this scene follows the scene in which Lady Macbeth assumes linguistic control over Macbeth, commanding him to “leave all the rest to me” in the plotting of Duncan’s murder. Immediately after this display of transgressive femininity, Shakespeare offers us this scene in which King Duncan politely reasserts her place in society. She is the “hostess” - distinctly female, one whose presence is largely superfluous and, by her own admission, her role is to “serve”. Duncan repeatedly asks to be brought to Macbeth, concluding and taking charge of the conversational exchange with the command: “Conduct me to mine host”, a reminder that it is Macbeth who holds the power, importance and status both in society and within the marriage as far as society is concerned.
Despite this, within this extract, Shakespeare offers more insight into Lady Macbeth’s sense of her own importance, her language suggesting that she perceives herself equal to her husband. She repeatedly uses the collective pronoun “our” which implies a sense of equality and that the traditional patriarchal hierarchy does not apply to her and her husband. Interestingly, this is echoed in Macbeth’s letter to Lady Macbeth earlier in the play. He refers to her as his “partner” suggesting that there is a parity between them, unusual for patriarchal times. There is perhaps the acknowledgement here that she is as important to him and his ambitions as he is to hers. Arguably, the fact that Lady Macbeth’s first words are indeed Macbeth’s words as she is reading his letter aloud is Shakespeare’s way of undermining this sense of equality - that ultimately Lady Macbeth’s ambitions to become Queen are irrevocably linked to Macbeth and that without him, her womanhood will render her powerless and unable to fulfil this ambition.
How would you continue this response?
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