How male/female relationships are portrayed in Macbeth and poems

Table of Content

Male/female relationships are portrayed differently in the poems ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, ‘Havisham’, ‘Cousin Kate’ and the play ‘Macbeth’. They all surround the themes of love, hate, jealousy, betrayal, guilt and obsession. However, the love versus hate theme is most dominant because all of the poems and the play have a melancholy mood, showing how the key characters have been hurt by love through their relationships and how afterwards, the way they feel has also been affected.

Shakespeare’s characters Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are initially united by their mutual ambition for power and their relationship is strong. However, over time, they become haunted by the brutal deeds that they have carried out to achieve their aims. They are driven apart by their inner feelings, secrets and guilt. In Act 1 Scene 7 of Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is portrayed as a woman in control over her man, a very odd situation in Jacobean times where the man would most often be in control of the woman.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

She is shown as being in control by persuading Macbeth into murdering Duncan, the king. She says, “Which thou esteem’st the ornament of life, And live a coward in thine own esteem,” to Macbeth, telling him he could have all his desires and the crown, but he is a coward and won’t achieve it. This makes the audience see her as a much less sensitive and respectful woman, compared to the typical Jacobean lady, being restricted and controlled by male dominance in society. At the time the play was written, women had no power or control over anything, and all decisions were made by men.

However, Lady Macbeth is the opposite of this, and challenges Macbeth to murder Duncan. While Lady Macbeth is shown as having more power at this point in the play, they aren’t hiding their thoughts or secrets from each other. The audience are shown this by the couple plotting the murder together as a united team and by them discussing “what cannot you and I perform upon the unguarded Duncan”. The effect of this on the audience is very powerful, as it shows how they would plan such a horrible deed together as a team, and don’t hide any of their secrets from each other.

Although planning the murder is horrific, they are shown as having a very close relationship at this point in the play, due to the fact that they don’t keep secrets from each other and are willing to plan a murder together. Lady Macbeth in Act 1 Scene 7 is shown to the audience as being quite demanding and persuading towards Macbeth about murdering Duncan. She uses different techniques to try and persuade Macbeth to murder the king, for example, using flattery when she says “When you durst do it, then you were a man: And, to be more than what you were, you would Be so much more the man. The techniques she used eventually managed to convince her husband to kill Duncan.

The effect of Lady Macbeth using these techniques on the audience makes them portray her as quite desperate for Macbeth to kill Duncan and that she acknowledges as a woman she can’t do the deed herself, she does not have enough power to do so. The relationship between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth is shown to the audience as being quite tense at this point, due to Macbeth not wanting to neither murder the king nor disappoint his wife.

Another technique she uses as well as flattery is guilt, to make Macbeth feel bad for breaking his promise to her and for not murdering Duncan, allowing Lady Macbeth to become the Queen of Scotland. Lady Macbeth is shown as not acting how a typical Jacobean lady would, calm, innocent and clean, but instead as manly, aggressive and dark-minded. When she is persuading Macbeth to murder Duncan, she says to him, “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 this”.

This quote has a very powerful effect on the audience and shows to them how heartless, ruthless and insensitive she is. The symbol of a mother and her baby represents the closest bond of love, yet Lady Macbeth would have been willing to destroy it if she had made a promise to Macbeth. This reveals to the audience that Lady Macbeth is determined to see Duncan murdered. She says she will do anything for Macbeth, and challenges him to do the same for her by murdering Duncan, against his will.

In Act 3 Scene 2, after Macbeth has been crowned King of Scotland following the murder of Duncan, Lady Macbeth is no longer portrayed as powerful and dominant. Instead, Macbeth is now in control in their relationship. Lady Macbeth says to one of her servants, “Say to the king, I would attend his leisure for a few words,” instead of approaching him directly, suggesting that they are becoming more distant from each other. This shows the audience that Lady Macbeth recognises Macbeth’s power as king and is conscious that she should be more reverent towards him.

In this scene, Lady Macbeth behaves less aggressively and more sensitively towards Macbeth’s feelings, like a traditional Jacobean wife would towards her husband. She says, “Gentle my lord, sleek o’er your rugged looks; be bright and jovial among your guests to-night. ” From this quote the audience can see that she is trying to calm and soothe Macbeth, suggesting that she feels guilty about convincing him to kill Duncan. She is shown as being quite caring, the opposite of her earlier personality.

This makes the audience believe that although she was has been a very strong character, she is able to adjust the way she behaves according to the situation she is in, in this case Macbeth starting to become paranoid and delirious. On the contrary, their relationship at this point is being driven apart; they are keeping their feelings and secrets away from each other. Macbeth, while planning to kill Banquo and Fleance, says to Lady Macbeth, “Be innocent of the knowledge, dearest chuck, Till thou applaud the deed.

This quote shows the audience that Macbeth doesn’t want Lady Macbeth to know about his plan for killing Banquo and Fleance until he has done it. It shows that Macbeth is isolating himself from everybody else including Lady Macbeth, driving their relationship further and further away. Macbeth, in this scene, becomes overwhelmed by paranoia and the guilt of murdering Duncan. “We have scorch’d the snake, not kill’d it: She’ll close and be herself, whilst our poor malice Remains in danger of her former tooth. ” In conclusion, Macbeth is both a victim of persuasion from his wife and fate, as prophesised by the witches.

Lady Macbeth is a very strong influence of his actions in the first part of the play. In the later scene, however, he is in control of her instead and even approaching their deaths, the relationship between them remains intact. The poems ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, ‘Havisham’ and ‘Cousin Kate’ are all based around three key themes; love, betrayal and jealousy. These poems all have a gloomy mood about them and unlike ‘Macbeth’ the central relationship in each of the poems are destroyed by the end of the poem. The relationships in the poems are broken apart by the actions of the male character.

Robert Browning’s ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is very interesting as the mood of the poem changes quite quickly. At the start of the poem, Porphyria is quite controlling of her lover. The reader is shown this by her lover saying, “She shut out the cold and storm And kneeled and made the cheerless grate Blaze up and all the cottage warm”. This quote shows that as soon as Porphyria has entered, she is adjusting the conditions to suit her, in this case making the cottage warmer. This suggests to the reader that Porphyria likes to be in control, and that she is most dominant in the relationship between her and her lover.

The quote “She sat down by my side And called me. When no voice replied, She put my arm about her waist” shows how when her lover ignores her, she controls his body so that he notices her more. This makes the reader portray her as having quite a forceful and vigorous character and that Porphyria’s lover allows her to control him, suggesting to the reader that he is a weak character. Later on in the poem, Porphyria’s lover is portrayed as being quite obsessive of her. He thinks Porphyria adores him and remarks “That moment she was mine, mine, fair”.

He is deluded about their relationship and believes “Porphyria worshipped me”. The reader is shown how her lover wants to possess Porphyria as if she is an object of desire, making them question whether he truly loves her. This makes the reader portray the relationship between them as quite tense, since he is very possessive of Porphyria and makes the reader believe he doesn’t truly love her. Porphyria and her lovers’ relationship changes at this point, and instead of loving each other as the audience believes at the start of the poem, Porphyria decides she does not want to be with her lover anymore.

Porphyria feels that her pride and class is more important than her love and is believed by her lover to be “Too weak for all her heart’s endeavour, To set it struggling passion free”. The reader views Porphyria as being quite conscious of her dignity and status in society, and is shown that she believes she is too good for him. This makes the reader question whether she truly loves him or if she doesn’t at all. The relationship at this point in the poem is shown to the reader as being quite tense, due to the fact that Porphyria doesn’t want to be with her lover anymore and wanting to leave him.

Porphyria’s lover believes that Porphyria wanted to be with him and convinced himself that by killing her he has fulfilled her wish to be with him. “Porphyria’s love: she guessed now how, Her darling one wish would be heard”. This quote shows to the reader that her lover wishes for her happiness, suggesting that her does truly love her. Their relationship at this point ends, yet they have both achieved their dreams; Porphyria has been able to leave him through death, yet he is happy to have her body as an object of his desire. ‘Havisham’ by Carol Ann Duffy contrasts to ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ in many ways.

Firstly, the key character has already been hurt by her lover before the poem has started, unlike ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ where she is hurt at the end. The reader is shown that Havisham has been hurt by her saying “not a day since then I haven’t wished him dead”. This quote has a very powerful effect on the reader, as it shows them Havisham’s feelings towards love after she has been hurt by it, and the affect it has had on her, making them empathise with her. The relationship in this poem compared to ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is very different yet mysterious, due to the fact that the reader is left to guess what has happened previously before the poem.

Another reason for why ‘Havisham’ differs from ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is that the poet has written the poem from the women’s perspective, instead of the man’s like in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’. The key character from ‘Havisham’ is portrayed to the reader as being left heartbroken by her lover and psychologically scarred. She spent “Whole days in bed cawing Nooooo at the wall”, which shows the reader that she is depressed and has chosen to isolated herself from the rest of society.

This suggests that she now feels alone and possibly worthless, the opposite of ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ where Porphyria believes her pride and high class in society is more important than her love. This has an interesting effect on the reader because it shows them the vast effect love can have on people, and how it can change them altogether, just like how Havisham has changed. Furthermore, Havisham says “beloved sweetheart bastard”, showing the reader that she used to adore her lover, but now hates him and thinks poorly of him. This quote is very effective and Duffy has used oxymoron to express how Havisham feels about her lover to the reader.

This is a similar technique to the pathetic fallacy used by Browning in ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ when it says “The rain set early in tonight, The sullen wind was soon awake”, referring to Porphyria coming to visit her lover. These techniques that the poets use are very effective and hint different messages to the reader about the poems, in the case of ‘Havisham’, showing how she used to love him but now despises him. Christina Rossetti’s ‘Cousin Kate’ is similar to ‘Havisham’ by the main female character being hurt by her lover.

This is shown by the quote “He lured me to his palace home, Woe’s me for joy thereof, To lead a shameless shameful life, His plaything and his love”. This quote shows the poem is similar to ‘Havisham’ because it shows how the woman was led by the key male character to believe that he loves her, which is different to ‘Porphyria’s Lover’. It is also similar because it uses oxymoron when it says Also in ‘Cousin Kate’, the main character is empathised with by the reader due to the fact that the Great Lord, who she truly loved, left her for her own cousin. “O cousin Kate, my love was true, Your love was writ in sand”.

This quote shows that the key character believes that Kate never loved the Great Lord, and it suggests that she is jealous of her. This is similar to ‘Havisham’ where the key male character leaves her heartbroken and distressed. However, this is different to ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ as the central relationship in ‘Cousin Kate’ doesn’t last until the end of the poem. In conclusion, ‘Macbeth’, ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, ‘Havisham’ and ‘Cousin Kate’ are all similar how they are all based upon the love versus hate theme. In my opinion, the relationships in all three of the poems are very similar, how they have all been hurt through love.

However, the relationship in Macbeth is different because the key relationship is shown to the audience as still being intact even through death. All four pieces are linked by having a central relationship between male and female characters, which ends tragically. This is a reoccurring theme throughout the pieces as well as the themes of jealousy, love versus hate, obsession and guilt. The love versus hate theme is very significant, as it is an example of oxymoron itself, as used in the poems. All these pieces are very effective examples of this love versus hate theme represented throughout.

Cite this page

How male/female relationships are portrayed in Macbeth and poems. (2016, Sep 16). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront