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Discuss in detail Shakespeare's presentation of women in Much Ado About Nothing

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Introduction

Discuss in detail Shakespeare's presentation of women in Much Ado About Nothing The role of women in the 1600's was to be submissive, passive, to obey men and to be seen rather than heard; as is depicted in the female characters in many of Shakespeare's plays such as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and Queen Gertrude in Hamlet. However, the characters in Shakespeare's plays are predominantly male, they include very few female characters and Much Ado About Nothing is no exception. Each of the female characters in this play represents a different role of a 16th century woman. The reason for the relatively small number of female character's in Shakespeare's plays is for both practicality, as all female roles in Shakespeare's plays were performed by men, but can also be seen as a reference to women's relatively insignificant status in society. A woman's virginity and chastity were what her reputation was solely based on. Her status was gained by marriage and women in this time were raised to believe they were inferior to men, this status is reflected in the character of Hero. Shakespeare seems to portray the conventional role of a Shakespearean woman through Hero. Her silent and submissive nature is what shows her weakness to being controlled by other characters. This is predominantly men; however, Beatrice also speaks over Hero, challenging the male chauvinistic stereotype by placing characteristics commonly associated with males, in a female character. This is most noticeable in act 2 scene1, where Leonato, Beatrice, Hero and Antonio are discussing the topic of Hero's future. ...read more.

Middle

was really trying to say to her, as a way of covering her real feelings in case there is a lapse in her tough outer exterior. And yet when in Act 3 scene 1 when Hero, Margaret and Ursula try to gull Beatrice she seems, to a certain extent, to believe them. Shakespeare's sudden portrayal of slight naivety in Beatrice can be interpreted as a way of showing the audience Beatrice has a more compassionate side, and that really she wants to believe this is true such as when she says "and, Benedick, love on; I will requite thee". Another moment in which Beatrice shows compassion is when Benedick proposes his love to her, and her immediate reaction is to tell him to kill Claudio for what he has done to her cousin, Hero. She uses Benedick's love for her cruelly as a way of forcing him to kill Claudio against his will when she says "you kill me to deny it. Farewell". In some respects, the character of Beatrice is there to show an independent and opinionated woman, representative in some aspects as an early feminist and as a way of challenging the conventional role of a Shakespearean woman. However in the final scene even Beatrice the independent, witty and intelligent heroine succumbs to the persuasive ways of men, love and society. The character of Hero can be interpreted in one of two ways. Critics say that Hero is 'conventional, not at all deep, but ladylike and deserving of sympathy' this could be to uphold the reputation expected of her due to her father and as a result of this, her high social status which can be seen in act 2 scene 1. ...read more.

Conclusion

With Beatrice being the main character to challenge the conventional role of a woman, she - of all characters - being the one to say this, shows that there are still restraints put in place by society on things seen as acceptable for women to do. Beatrice repeats this line several times, interrupting Benedick with more of her self pitying rant every time he tries to defend his reasons for objecting to killing Claudio. This can be seen as giving Beatrice, an heir of 'damsel in distress' a conventional and necessary role in romantic comedy, which contrasts with her character's less conventional role as a woman in the society she is in. Also in this scene, Shakespeare uses dramatic irony, when Claudio says "you seem to me as Dian on her orb" saying that Hero seems innocent, and pure, but he continues to say "but you are more intemperate in your blood" saying that he has realised Hero is not as she first appears and sees her more as someone who sleeps around. The audience, of course, knows this is not true. But the use of the dramatic irony here portrays the two sides of a woman, and shows how much Leonato's reputation lies on Hero's actions and status. Hero is a character that at first glance seems insignificant in the sense that she is rarely given opinions or a chance to speak. However the role that she plays is vital to romantic comedy as the young, innocent, female. This necessity of female characters to the plot and genre of the play despite their portrayal as being inferior to men is what is ironic in Much Ado About Nothing. ...read more.

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