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Manliness in Shakespeare’s plays Essay

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Updated: Dec 17th, 2019


The play Macbeth is designed for the purpose of complementing a self proclaimed anti militarist Macbeth (Wells 117). While it is apparent that the play celebrates divine themes such as justice, verity, stableness, temperance, bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness, courage, patience, fortitude and devotion, the play shows men defending such virtues not with reluctant resort to force or even industrious soldiership (Wells 117). The confusion of these values forms an appeal that is evident throughout the play to manhood.

As illustrated by Lady Macbeth true manhood goes hand in hand with heroic deeds of violence. On the other hand for Macduff the attributes of manly valor must be softened by the more civilized virtues of feeling and compassion. But in the play it is not only Macbeth and his wife who associate manhood with acts of violence.

In fact the play is divided into groups associated with “good things of the day” and other who act as the “’nights back agents” (Wells 117). The former group being one that thinks of manhood in terms of only violent actions. The theme of manhood and violence in the play points to a greater ethical and political problem as to whether or not the use of violence to achieve peaceful ends preoccupied Elizabethan writers.

In the play on King Lear, Shakespeare presents a dramatic version of the nature of relationships between parents and their children. In the play Lear the King decides to divide his kingdom among his three daughters. In an attempt to allocate the largest bounty to the one he loves most he asks his daughters for expressions of affection (Ruth 6).

The youngest speaks plainly and disappoints him resulting in her disinheritance. In the scene that follows pleas to understand her lead to the banishment of Kent. As the play progresses things go awry and in the process his most beloved daughter is hanged. Lear dies completely grief stricken over the death of this daughter leaving Kent, Albany and Edgar to restore order to the kingdom left in disarray (Ruth 6). In this play the author depicts the problems that arise from an excess of manliness.


In the play Macbeth, the author depicts a central character in the play whose flaws in character bring about his own demise (Sheinberg and Shakespeare 67). In this play this flaw brings about a situation which the character is unable to control and thus spirals into events that become out of the characters control.

In this play the tragic hero in question is played by the character Macbeth. The events that lead to his tragic demise begin when he compromises his honor and negates moral responsibility to attain power and position bringing the tragic result of his untimely demise (Sheinberg and Shakespeare 67).

Among the poor traits that are evident in the character played by Macbeth include fate, weakness, poor decision making and the realization of the flaw but lack of ability to make the necessary change (Sheinberg and Shakespeare 67). The play begins with the return of Macbeth from a successful campaign to defend the Scottish King Duncan (Shmoop 2).

Along the way Macbeth and his accomplice Banquo encounter three bearded witches who deliver the news that Macbeth will be named King of Scotland. The witches also mentions that though Banquo will not be a King himself he will be a father to long line of future Kings of Scotland (Shmoop 2).

Soon after a character named Ross appears indicating that the old Thane of Cawdor has been found a traitor and will be executed. Following this Macbeth gets to take his place fulfilling the first bit of the prophecy. Macbeth reveals that that the witches prophecies made him think about murder and he finds himself feeling very guilty and concludes if fate wants him King he will not lift a finger against the current King to make it a reality (Shmoop 3). But this changes when King Duncan announces his son will claim the throne.

Upon this event happening he writes a letter to his ambitious wife Lady Macbeth who immediately begins to scheme on how to eliminate King Duncan. She decides that her first task must be to berate Macbeth into believing that he is not a man if he cannot kill Duncan (Shmoop 3). At the same time it happens the King is scheduled to visit Macbeth and his wife insists that this would be the best opportunity to eliminate him and frame his guards.

Later that night under his wife’s instructions, Macbeth does the heinous deed and frames a guard for the murder. Following the murder of their father the Kings children escape to avoid being murdered and Macbeth is named the King (Shmoop 3). Soon after Macbeth begins to worry about the witches’ prophecy and hires some hit men to eliminate Banquo and his son Fleance. The plan goes awry and Banquo is murdered but his son Fleance manages to escape (Shmoop 3). Following the murder Macbeth begins to be haunted by Banquo’s ghost.

He is also reminded of the prophecy and is advised to pay attention to Macduff, the guard who found the Kings body. Macbeth decides nobody will deny him the throne and decides to murder Macduff’s family (Shmoop 4). By now Macbeth has been labeled a tyrant and is suspected of having hand in the murder of Duncan and Banquo.

Following these events Macduff pays a visit to the English King who unlike Macbeth is an honorable man and a well respected King. Soon after this Ross shows up in England with the news that Macbeth has had Macduff’s wife and children killed. This prompts Macduff and Malcolm to begin plots to overthrow Macbeth with the aid of English soldiers (Shmoop 4).

In the meantime Lady Macbeth has begun to sleep walk and is plagued by the murders she and her husband colluded to undertake. She eventually dies to which Macbeth responds that her death should have been at more convenient time given his preparations for battle (Shmoop 4). Macbeth believes to be safe given that the prophecy say none born of a woman shall be able to harm him. As the drama continues to unfold Malcolm and Macduff appear with a large army making threats of placing Macbeth’s head on a pike.

As the war between the two forces is about to take place Malcolm gives an order to the troops instructing them to cut down trees in Birnham woods to be used as camouflage. It should be noted that the prophecy mentions the wood in Birnam moving to Dunsinane (Shmoop 2). Macbeth is soon cornered in his castle and Macduff reminds Macbeth of his birth by a caesarean delivery. This untimely removal from his mother’s womb suggests not being born in the play. Macduff the proceeds to slay Macbeth and carries his severed head to Malcolm who was later crowned King (Shmoop 4).

Just as it was mentioned in the introduction the play depicts a display of manhood and the use of acts of violence to gain the throne of Scotland. Unfortunately for Macbeth, he relied on ill advice from Lady Macbeth who was of the opinion that manhood went hand in hand with vile deeds of violence. As a result of this Macbeth begins a slow but ultimately fatal game through the murder of King Duncan based on advice from three bearded witches.

Once his plan comes to fruition he becomes plagued by the words of the witches and turns on his friend Duncan and slays him to protect his throne. The blood on his hands begins to leads him to further confusion and in his demented state he murders the family of Macduff once gain to protect his throne. Unfortunately, his wife dies leaving him alone to deal with his heinous crimes. Macbeth is eventually surrounded in his castle and slain and Malcolm is crowned the new King.

King Lear

The play begins with in pre Christian Britain when the then King Lear decides that the time has come for his retirement. This decision comes in light of the fact that the King is aging and would like to avoid any political or family conflict that may arise after his death (Shmoop 2). Based on King Lear’s deteriorating condition he makes a decision to divide his Kingdom between his daughters namely, Cordelia, Goneril and Regan.

To determine who will get the biggest bounty the king decides to attempt to determine who among his children loves him most. In the process, Cordelia refuses professing words cannot adequately express her affection. The King is distraught with her and disinherits her (Shmoop2).

He refuses to offer Cordelia dowry for marriage and she elopes with the King of France. Lear divides the kingdom between Goneril married to the Duke of Albany and Regan married to the Duke of Cornwall (Shmop3). When Kent, Lear’s main advisor admonishes him of the mistake his making, Lear banishes Kent. When Lear retires to live with Goneril, she soon tires of her father and his entourage and threatens to evict him. The act annoys Lear who moves to Regan’s house (Shmoop3).

Regan also decides not to tolerate her father’s complaints and gangs up with Goneril to have their father get rid of his knights. In this moment he realizes the two did not love him as much as he assumed and he loses his mind and resorts to wandering the kingdom (Shmoop 3). In the process he is assisted by a lowly citizen. The citizen is punished for the deed and one of his servants murders Regan’s husband.

As the plot thickens Lear is eventually reunited with Cordelia who forgives her father for all his misgivings. Cordelia and her husband decide to assist by using the French army to attempt to reclaim Lear’s kingdom from Regan and Goneril. Unfortunately the French army lost the battle to the British army of Goneril and Regan. In the events that follow Lear and Cordelia are captured. While Lear and Cordelia languish in prison the other two daughters begin to tussle over the evil Edmund (Shmoop 4).

In the process Goneril decides to poison her sister Regan so as to remain with Edmund. This event completely enrages Albany who then decides to attempt to have Edmund and Goneril arrested and charged with the crime of treason owing to their alleged affair and the attempt on his life. In the process Edmund’s brother Edgar stabs him and reveals his identity to his father. The father dies of a heart attack on receiving the news.

Before dying Edmund apologizes for his deeds and reveals he had sent someone to kill Lear and Cordelia and advises those present to act fast to prevent the action (Shmoop4). Goneril in light of the number of deaths commits suicide and when the party rush to save Cordelia they find her already dead. Lear enters to carry his dead daughter in his arms and on realizing what became of his family dies of a broken heart (Shmoop 5).

The play about King Lear is a play that is a lot more about familial relations than bad political decisions (Shmoop 2). The plays is more about the Kings poor decision to disinherit the only child he truly loves, Cordelia, and this sets in motion a series of tragic events (Shmoop 2).

The other daughters Goneril and Regan soon after betray their father and begin to squabble over another man. The events lead to breaking the old man’s heart and he resorts to homelessness and becomes a wanderer in his kingdom. As fate would have it war erupts in the kingdom and in the process Goneril poisons her sister then kills herself while Cordelia is unjustly put to death. In the end Lear dies of a broken heart (Shmoop 2). It may be said that that the play depicts the folly of an excessive display of manliness.

Works Cited

Ruth, Corrina Siebert. King Lear (MAXNotes Literature Guides). New Jersey: Research & Education Association, 1999. Print.

Sheinberg, Rebecca McKinlay and William Shakespeare. Macbeth (MAXNotes Literature Guides). New Jersey: Research & Education Association, 1994. Print.

Shmoop. Macbeth: Shmoop Learning Guide. Printed in the USA: Shmoop University Inc., 2010. Print.

Shmoop. King Lear: Shmoop Literature Guide. Printed in the USA; Shmoop University Inc., 2010. Print.

Wells, Robin Headlam. Shakespeare on Masculinity. Cambridge: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 2004. Print.

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