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"Much Ado About Nothing"

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Introduction

"Much Ado About Nothing" AS English Literature Coursework * Extract from Act 2 Scene 1 * Line Antonio: Well, niece I trust you'll be ruled 43 by your father. 44 Beatrice: Yes faith, it is my cousin's duty to make 45 curtsy, and say, father as it please you. 46 Does this extract reflect Shakespeare's presentation of women in the play, and what is your response to this presentation 400 years later? Shakespeare's presentation of the main female characters in "Much Ado About Nothing" is insightfully conveyed in Act 2, scene 1. "Well niece, I trust you'll be ruled by your father". The dominant nature of the male characters in the play is expressed with reference to being "ruled", which suggests the oppression of women in Elizabethan society. In the context of the quotation, this implication of patriarchy is in regards to the act of marriage. However, deeper meaning may be established in assuming this ascendancy in terms of all aspects of an Elizabethan woman's life. To a modern audience, such patriarchy would seem irrational and unacceptable. However, the context in terms of time period to which this play was written must be considered. With reference to the use of the word "father", it may be construed that father figures determined the decisions of Elizabethan women until marriage. ...read more.

Middle

Act 3, Scene 1 portrays Hero exclusively in the company of women, no longer restrained in a modest manner, revealing dominating and opinionated characteristics in herself which were previously unseen. Hero's more outspoken character when in the company of women is not reflected in the extract Act 2, Scene1. This leads to the suggestion of an additional facet to her personality revealed only in the presence of other women. Perhaps Beatrice's absence in this scene is further justification of Hero's newfound confidence. Rather than obeying others, Hero is seen to be making commands, while her waiting ladies follow her every instruction. The portrayal of female characters in the extract of Act 2 Scene 1, lines 43-46,upholds the patriarchal mindset of the Renaissance's society. Through Hero's silence, she is established as a compliant saint, whereas her talkative cousin is typecast as the wild shrew. Unlike the complex personality of Beatrice, all that is admirable about Hero is embodied entirely in her modesty which proves to be her Achilles Heel, as any tarnishing of it destroys her entire character. This is made apparent at the climax of the play, when she is accused of having an impure relationship with a man- a sin of great dishonour warranting severe punishment in Elizabethan times. As more of Hero's personality flaws are revealed, she becomes more disliked by a modern reader. ...read more.

Conclusion

Mirroring Hero and Beatrice, Margaret and Ursula represent two women of similar social class who behave in very different manners. "To one method of characterization Shakespeare seemed to have been especially partial; it is that of providing his major characters with contrasting opposites or foils designed to set them off." (http://sites.micro-link.net/zekscrab/Muchado.html#Much%20Ado) Unlike Ursula, Margaret frequently acts against convention: "Not so neither: but know that I have tonight wooed Margaret, the Lady Hero's gentlewoman, by the name of Hero. She leans me out at her mistress' chamber-window, bids me a thousand times goodnight- I tell this tale vilely- I should first tell thee how the prince, Claudio, and my master planted and placed and possessed by my master- Don John, saw afar off in the orchard this amiable encounter." Through this extract the gullibility and ignorance of the character of Margaret is highlighted. Borachio's speech indicates that Margaret is easily seduced and deceived by him. Although any suspicions of such unchaste conduct would be dealt with extremely if applied to of Beatrice or Hero, Margaret would not have been received as badly, due to lower expectations in the Elizabethan period for women of the lower classes. Margaret's promiscuity can be contrasted with the reaction to the slander of Hero. Hero had to "die" in order to surpass the shame associated her reputation, whereas Margaret's promiscuity is casually overlooked by characters. ...read more.

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