‘At the core of every Gothic text is transgression.’ Gothic essay - Macbeth, Frankenstein, The Bloody Chamber

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`At the core of every Gothic text is transgression.' Discuss this in relation to three texts you
have studied.
Transgression within Gothic literature is often depicted through extremes of behaviour which result
in the crossing of several societal or moral boundaries. Implementing such elements into Gothic texts
may also be seen as a way of highlighting the potential capability of man and the threats associated
with this, evoking fear into their readers and perhaps implying a favouring of the safer boundaries of
societal expectations.
Within Mary Shelley's `Frankenstein', Victor displays a form of evolutionary transgression through his
creation of a new species, which goes against natural order and selection: `the dissecting room and
the slaughterhouse furnished many of my materials'. He dismembers other deceased corpses and
animals in order to piece together a new being, which not only adds a morbid and macabre
undertone to the whole process but also can be interpreted as a religious taboo, as reanimating the
dead would have been considered a betrayal of God due to the blasphemous nature of taking on the
role of a creator. This may have been considered particularly frightening to `Frankenstein's'
readership as the novel was published shortly after the founding of `galvanism', in which Galvani
investigated the effect of electricity on dissected animals in the 1780s and 1790, and may be an
authorial statement by Shelley about the potentially threatening position of science in relation to
religious faith.
Taboo is a common Gothic element which expresses the extreme crossing of societal limits and
boundaries, though Victor's almost oblivious nature to his own transgressions highlight his narcissistic
nature. His lack of limits is suggested when he states: `I pursued nature to her hiding-places'. His
obsessional nature depicts the extremities of human ambition, and also leads to Victor's
self-imposed isolation, as he states `I believed myself totally unfitted for the company of strangers'.
Not only is the isolation and loneliness of the protagonist a typical Gothic setting which leads to an
atmosphere of alienation, but the fact that it is self-imposed also implies further transgression as
Victor does not abide by typical social norms which involve communication with others and instead
retreats into solitude.
Shakespeare's `Macbeth' similarly contains immoral and transgressive acts, most notably in
Macbeth's murder of Duncan. Not only does he commit murder, which in itself is a taboo act, but he
simultaneously commits regicide through the murder of a king, drawing upon the contextual fears of
the Jacobean audience to which the play was first performed. Macbeth is also seen to usurp the
natural order of Duncan's patriarchal lineage: `his virtues will plead like angels, trumpet tongued
against the deep damnation of his taking off'. Macbeth can be seen to have disrupted the natural
state through betraying the divine right of kings, forcing himself into a position of power that he was
not intended to possess.
Additionally, Macbeth is not the only character in the play who can be interpreted as transgressive.
His wife, Lady Macbeth, can be seen to take on the typically Gothic characterizations of a `femme
fatale' through her violent infanticide fantasy: `I would, whilst it was smiling in my face, have plucked
my nipple from his boneless gums and dashed the brains out'. This graphic depiction of Lady
Macbeth's violent fantasy highlights her as the monstrous feminine and thus challenges the
traditional image of women and expectations surrounding them at the time of the plays release. Not
only does this characterization add to the terror of the play and enable a modern Gothic reading to
be applied, but it has been suggested that such characters can be interpreted to represent

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The `horrific' nature of such characters
can additionally be interpreted as a statement about society's perception of them as freakish due to
their engagement in pursuits considered to be outside the traditional and approved woman's realm.
The transgressive nature of Lady Macbeth can consequently be read as an active attempt to escape
the gender-appropriate expectations of society, exemplified through her line `unsex me here', thus
leading her character to cross a number of moral, social and gender boundaries.…read more

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