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Shakespeare: Macbeth

3. Women

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About this Lecture


In this module, we look at the role of women in the play. We begin by considering the two patriarchal societies that are relevant to the play; the first that of 11th-Century Scotland, when the play is set, and the second that of Jacobean England, when the play was first written and performed. In both societies, the role of women was broadly the same; they would be seen as the possesion of their fathers until marriage, at which point their primary role was to produce male heirs. In Macbeth, there are two kinds of women; those that adhere to society's expectation of them (such as Lady MacDuff) and those that do not (such as Lady Macbeth). In many ways, it is argued, Lady Macbeth is an outsider, which might explain why a number of productions have aligned her closely with the other female outsiders of the play - the witches.


This course focuses on Macbeth, looking in particular at several key aspects of the play. In the first module, we focus on the appeal of the play, both when it was first peformed in the early 17th century, and for contemporary audiences. In the second module, we explore the theme of the supernatural in Macbeth, looking at King James' fascination with witches, the character of the witches in the play, and the role of fate and free-will. After that, we look at the role of women in the play, focusing in particular on their position in the patriarchal societies of 11th-Century Scotland and Jacobean England, and thinking about the extent to which the major female characters of the play fit into the patriarchal mould. In the fourth module, we consider the theme of kingship, looking at how Shakespeare adapted his sources to make Macbeth look less legitimate as a ruler, before turning in the final module to thinking about the play in performance, thinking in particular about the various different ways that one might present the play in production.


Stephen Siddall was Head of English at The Leys School in Cambridge for 31 years and has taught Shakespeare courses for university students and for the University of Cambridge International Summer School in Shakespeare. Between 1988 and 2005 he directed 15 Renaissance classic plays for The Arts Theatre, Cambridge and, more recently A Doll's House and Waiting for Godot for the Horseshoe Theatre Company. He has also directed for BBC television and for the (open air) Pendley Shakespeare Festival. For Cambridge University Press he has written a student guide for Macbeth (2002), Shakespeare on Stage (2008) and Landscape and Literature (2009)

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APA style

Siddall, S. (2018, August 15). Shakespeare: Macbeth - Women [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Siddall, S. "Shakespeare: Macbeth – Women." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 15 Aug 2018,