Shakespeare lived in an era where women possessed few political and private rights. Women in this time were to remain silent, avoid political discussions and to focus on their duties within their households. Women were subjected to the will of men as men were thought to be greater morally, physically and intellectually. They were also thought to be more courageous, ambitious, determined, decisive, rational and refined - beliefs which remain, to an extent, entrenched in our social mores today. The characters in Shakespeare's plays do not follow the 'clear cut' gender roles prescribed by the context in which he lived. The play Macbeth, reflects aspects of the world at that time, but also challenges the very basis of it's foundations with the use of characters Macbeth, Lady Macbeth and Lady Macduff. Shakespeare "plays- with the fears of his audience to produce a female character that rivals many of his male characters in her willingness to carry out violence "against others and herself. .
Macbeth's masculinity is recognized and defined by himself and by other, influential people around him. On the battlefield, he is proclaimed to be a courageous, 'valiant cousin,' and a 'worthy gentlemen,' who 'brandished steel which smoked with bloody execution'. The play also opens and concludes with a battle, and what is a more male pursuit than war? Men are portrayed as if they are born to fight. Macbeth carries a large imagination, a conscience, compassion, sensitivity and, in some areas, he acts or thinks to act, as directed by heart felt emotions - a truly feminine characteristic at the time. . Lady Macbeth herself notices a so-called female quality in her husband: "I do fear that thy nature is too full o' th' milk of humane kindness."".
Indeed, Macbeth demonstrates considerably less determination than his wife. After Macbeth's procrastination before the murder of King Duncan, it is clear to Lady Macbeth that he need be encouraged in order to get him to commit the act.