Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade October 2001

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The Roles of Women Over many centuries, women faced a system that was, in effect if not intention, hypocritical towards them. For women were told that they were being protected by men who claimed love, duty and responsibility to justify their power, whereas the women were actually constrained, limited, even owned and abused. In the book The War On Women, Marilyn French contends that, as men begin to build what would develop into a "male supremacy built by force" (TWOW 9), the female category slowly marginalizes, and subjugates to the will of the male class. Furthermore, many of the world's leaders, presidents, and CEOs are male, dominating over the natural world and those associated with nature, namely women. Quite simply, many people believe that God made women subordinate to men by endowing the men with reason, logic, and intellect while giving women traits that subvert proper order and rationality: chaotic emotionality, passion, and weakness.

Similarly, in Shakespeare's plays, many of the roles of women are, in the eyes of the normal audience, futile and weak. Can we conclude then, that the roles the women played are just imaginary constructs and nothing more? Or was Shakespeare a person, who permitted women to openly express their intelligence and spirit at a time when male historians presumed that law and custom successfully restricted women from such freedom? In the plays that feature the downfall of a tragic hero, who possesses a tragic flaw, a contradiction unexpectedly takes place. By looking at the roles of Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, Gertrude and Ophelia in Hamlet, their responsibilities become vital and valuable during the downfall of a tragic hero.

In the play Macbeth, Lady Bacbeth's role dominates throughout the many beginning scenes. Her power and skills over Macbeth comes to such an extent that she actually uses silent humiliation and emotional bribery to manipulate his own husband, and forces him to execute her will. Even so, Macbeth addresses her as his "dearest partner of greatness" (Macbeth I. v. 10-11). This clearly suggests that Macbeth not only loves his wife dearly, but considers her as his equal. At the scene where Macbeth and his wife discuss of the upcoming killing of the king, Lady Macbeth uses veiled talk, and exaggerated meanings in order to sweeten the idea. Intelligently, she never mentions the word murder, rather, she just notes that Duncan will "never shall sun that morrow see" (Macbeth I. vi. 59-60). It is almost a form of seduction; she hides the foul ideas behind pretty words, making it seem as if it is all right. When Macbeth tries to interject, she simply speaks over him, soothing his troubled mind with a promise that she will handle everything else, as long as he "[looks] up clear" (Macbeth I. vi. 70).