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To what extent does the portrayal of women in Much Ado About Nothing subvert the conventions of the society shown in the play?

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Introduction

To what extent does the portrayal of women in ?Much Ado About Nothing? subvert the conventions of the society shown in the play? Freedom for women in the patriarchal society, in which the play is set, appears controlled and constrained in ?Much Ado About Nothing (MAAN)?. Shakespeare employs the rebellious spirit of Beatrice in his comedy to subvert the social orthodoxy of the Elizabethan era. Hero falls victim to the suppressive nature of the dominating male characters; however Beatrice, our shrew, provides humour with her quick wit and wordplay, and a breath of fresh air for a modern feminist audience. The dramatic genre of comedy is often subversive and ?MAAN? definitely does not fail to live up to this expectation. With her opening line, our female protagonist subverts conventional stereotypes as she interrupts a conversation between two male speakers, questioning the return of ?Signior Mountanto?. Instantly this informs us of her subversive lack of etiquette in conversation, as women would not typically speak out for themselves, especially not against a man. Her wordplay and double entendre here invokes humour firstly because the name relates to an up thrust in duelling, thus describing Benedick as a show-off, and secondly because it has sexual connotations. ...read more.

Middle

However, some may deem her subversion of the gender roles here as positively defiant. Although verbally expressing her anguish, Beatrice ?too, in this patriarchal society, must be dependent on a man to make right prevail?, as Penny Gay says, and this disheartens the audience. Thus, Beatrice turns to a man to carry out her wish for her: ?Come, bid me do anything for thee.? Also note Benedick?s reaction to this request; he succumbs to Beatrice?s influence, and in consequence reverses the established gender roles in Renaissance society. The consistent sexual innuendo Beatrice insinuates in her speech is undeniably subversive. Bawdy language, not generally used by young, conventional women, presents Beatrice as characteristically more masculine than feminine: ?With a good leg and a good foot, uncle?. There is a sexual pun on the word ?foot?, perhaps linking to the unmannerly French ?foutre?, as to suggest an adept lover during copulation ? women having openly sexual desires during Elizabethan times was very distasteful, making the comment even more significant. It is also vital to note Leonato?s response to such language stating to ?be so shrewd of thy tongue? ?wilt never get thee a husband?, as if almost presuming Beatrice aspires to be wedded and oppressed. ...read more.

Conclusion

This undoubtedly presents Beatrice as the feebler and more vulnerable of the sexes. There is now even more of an inevitability surrounding her imminent submission to a controlling husband, as she tames ?my wild heart to thy loving hand? just as she was expected to do. A feminist critic would argue that the play?s heroine has just sold out to tradition by adhering to a life of matrimony. This scene is hyperbolic in the 1993 Kenneth Branagh film version, and Josie Rourke's production of the Shakespearean comedy. This adds great comic effect as Beatrice cries out her love in an over exaggerated and quixotic fashion; arguably too extravagant? The view that some of the comic heroines in ?MAAN? may fall into the typical portrayal of women as passive and compliant, has some credibility. However, the unconventional wit and defiance of Beatrice outweighs the previous statement, and provides exactly what a comedy is made for: humour. It is arguable that the play ends badly from a feminist critic?s point of view as social order and the expected position of the sexes is restored (just as is anticipated, due to the comic structure). Nevertheless, mocking, transgressing and subverting the status quo will always be at the very heart of comedy, and ?MAAN? corresponds totally to this notion, especially in its depiction of the unforgettable character, Beatrice. ...read more.

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