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Shakespeare...a Feminist?

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Written by Maggie Quale Shakespeare...a Feminist? If women's rights have dramatically improved since the 1600's, why has our definition of beauty remained static? Shakespeare's sonnets and poems like Venus and Adonis, both capture and deride the stereotype, demonstrating that all men do not value beauty above all else. Yet the delineation of the "perfect beauty" adored throughout the ages sounds shockingly similar to today's archetype. Simply gaze at any 6-foot, 100 pound, 12 year-old supermodel for evidence. There persists a formula for female beauty, even for today's independent, intelligent and increasingly equal woman. Consider this scene where Venus attempts to convince the faultless Adonis that she is worth his affections: "Thou canst not see one wrinkle in my brow; Mine eyes are gray and bright and quick in turning: My beauty ...read more.


And although the paradigm that required beauty to be blond-haired, blue-eyed and fair-skinned has dissipated recently, there endures a fixed criterion that most women attempt to imitate. Shakespeare's eloquent prose paint attractive images of frailty and youthful splendor, but his works are also filled with a level of sarcasm and disgust towards the practice of superficial devotion. Beginning with Sonnet 127, Shakespeare introduces us to his Dark Lady. He departs from previous increase arguments and contemporaneous means of expression and presents an alternative appreciation of romanticized beauty. Suddenly, typical idioms such as damask cheeks, coral lips and snow-white skin, are coupled with phrases like false compare, profaned beauty, slandering creation, and art's false borrowed face: "I love to hear her speak, yet well I know That music hath a far more pleasing sound; I grant I never saw a goddess go; My mistress when she walks treads on the ground. ...read more.


In doing so, he simultaneously encourages women to be themselves and not try to emulate others. Shakespeare's Dark Lady sonnets raise many questions about what defines beauty that we still struggle with today. If modern women recognize inner beauty as more precious than a cosmetized, counterfeit image, why do we perpetuate the illusion? Though particulars may change as styles evolve, the reliance upon men's sexual preference remains fundamental. We allow others to dictate and confirm our own self-worth based on our fluctuating appearance. And though we blame the media for perpetuating this problem, Shakespeare's sonnets are a striking example of how multifarious and far-reaching the issue actually is. On a light note, his sonnets lead me to wonder whether Shakespeare was a pioneering feminist. However they also leave me feeling disgusted that women have made such progress, but still allow ourselves to be negated to mere objects of adoration. ...read more.

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