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Shakespeare's presentation of women

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Shakespeare's Presentation of Women - Twelfth Night Although Shakespeare reflects and at times supports the cultural constructs of women and men and their conflicting roles and responsibilities in society, he also questions, challenges, and modifies those representations, creating a complicated ambivalence, as one moment he is praising women, yet in another he is criticizing them, such as when Orsino refers to women as "creatures". It is almost impossible to tie down Shakespeare's true thoughts on women, but it is clear that he justifiably has slight misogynistic tendencies. The role of Viola in Twelfth Night is as one of the main characters, as she embodies the dichotomy between appearances versus reality. She is a woman disguised as her brother Sebastian, and in Elizabethan times she would be played by a man on stage. "I am not what I am", she says, and with this disguise there is much to provoke comedy, using the ambiguities of language and dramatic irony, such as when Orsino says "Come hither, boy...", as the Jacobian audience would know of her disguise, and also "I am all the daughters of my father's house / And all the brothers too". ...read more.


By doing so, he opens the door for them politically as well as socially, well in advance of any rights being granted to women. Another strong female character in Twelfth Night is Olivia. She is an intelligent character of court, a woman of independence and of property after her father left his possessions to her brother, and then she in turn inherited them from him. However when she marries, according to social aspects of that era, her husband will gain all of that power. She is also the object of desire from Orsino, Sir Andrew, Malvolio and eventually Sebastian. At the beginning of the play, Olivia is a cloistress in mourning for her brother, and shows excessive melancholy and extravagance that parallels Orsino. Both characters are steeped in the melancholy of sentimental love to the point of being blinded by it and both suffer from the complexities of love. But Orsino takes a passive approach to the pursuit of love, in the way that he sends Cesario to pursue Olivia, whereas Olivia takes a more active role. ...read more.


Although Olivia seems to dislike Malvolio at times "O, you are sick of self-love, Malvolio, and taste with a distemper'd appetite." she displays compassion and kindness in the way that she attempts to bring him back into the wedding society. This sentimentality is seen in many of Shakespeare's portrayals of women, and is similar to the way in which Maria is presented. Maria is Olivia's lady in waiting, and is a character who balances the household. She tolerates Sir Andrew and Sir Toby's folly, yet doesn't hesitate to scold them when she feels it has gone too far. Sir Toby and Maria are having an affair, and Sir Toby boasts that she adores him. Maria is the character who single-handedly thinks up the plot to gull Malvolio, and in doing so gains the admiration of the male characters, Sir Toby says "O, twill be admirable" of the plan. She is a literary construct who embodies some of Shakespeare's main ideas and themes. She can also be seen as some of Shakespeare's praise of women, as in letting a female character be so intelligent, witty and quick-minded, Shakespeare is giving women qualities that were scarcely seen to exist in Elizabethan England. ...read more.

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