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Much ado about nothing - How far do you agree with the feminist contention that the treatment of women in this play reflects deep insecurities in men about the potential threat of the female to undermine patriarchal order?

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Introduction

How far do you agree with the feminist contention that the treatment of women in this play reflects deep insecurities in men about the potential threat of the female to undermine patriarchal order? There are many ways in which the play, 'Much Ado About Nothing', by Shakespeare could be interpreted and read. This ambiguity is present in all of Shakespeare's works yet one interpretation is prominent in 'Much Ado About Nothing' particularly. The feminist contention that the treatment of women in this play reflects deep insecurities in men about the potential threat of the female to undermine patriarchal order, such as that of Messina's society, highlights Shakespeare's tendency to override the freedom of female characters. Of course, it is only in recent years that the play has been read from a feminist viewpoint and the shift of social focus during the years since it was written has also offered a vast range of interests, so much so that throughout the ages Shakespeare has meant different things to different people. However, the passive oppression of women seems to be a common denominator and is present here at its greatest strength in the arranged marriage between Hero and Claudio and her subsequent disgrace. It must be considered whether this is just a misinterpretation of Shakespeare's preference to focus on male characters because there were no female actors at the time when it was written (a prejudice reflected in the play), or the greater impetus that dramatic scenes had when acted out within a patriarchal society. ...read more.

Middle

We may admire Beatrice's spirit but the play "continues to endorse a particular view of women's nature", as Terence Hawkes believed. This idea of going against the male 'grain' of the play and abandoning the female nature, dominated by marriage and the prospect of children, draws comparisons to Lady Macbeth in the play, Macbeth. This comparison is also relevant when Beatrice exclaims, "O God that I were a man!" (Act 4:1), when confronted by her own conflicting emotions in her desire for Claudio to be killed. This idea of women becoming 'unsexed' to commit acts of violence or brutality is present in Shakespeare's plays to the extent that it comments on the behaviour of the men. This in itself makes it impossible for any woman to be a man's equal in the society of Messina, where women are incapable of violence due to nature's order, yet men transcend nature such is the dominating force that they have in the play. Whilst never going to the extreme of becoming 'unsexed', Beatrice is reluctant to submit to the predetermined role of women in Messina and this contributes to her reasoning behind the use of irony as a defence mechanism, to prevent herself becoming too close to Benedick. The consciousness of Beatrice of diminished freedom after marriage is never present in Hero. Her willingness to be married is yet another indicator that she has never experienced true freedom. The behaviour of Claudio in the period before his wedding is an example of how women did not feature predominantly in the actions of the men who held high positions in society. ...read more.

Conclusion

Margaret is a minor female character yet she is grossly wronged by Borachio in the deception by Don John to provide visual evidence of Hero becoming intimate with another man. She remains silent throughout Hero's ordeal, even after realising what part she had to play in the proceedings, which is akin to Hero's conduct whilst having her future decided by the men around her. Margaret is reluctant to reveal the truth due to the shame that it would bring on herself, a common jeopardy faced by women. Therefore, it is not just the mistreatment by men that suppresses the threat posed by women but also the reaction of society that females must endure following events instigated by men, ironic in itself. Although both men and women had predetermined positions and roles in society, the feminist contention that the treatment of women reflects deep insecurities in men about the potential threat of the female to undermine patriarchal order is predominantly evident in this play. Beatrice, as a strong-willed woman, holds great influence whilst refusing to be treated badly by any man. Such an example is her persuasion of Benedick to kill Claudio, an action a female could not carry out herself unless she were 'unsexed' such as Lady Macbeth. The deed that Hero is supposed to have perpetrated is a threat to Claudio's reputation and his treatment of her subsequently is the best proof in this play of this feminist contention. The female characters are pushed into less significant roles within the play as a way to 'contain' the threat and feminist readings place emphasis on the idea of structuralism - interpreting the play against the male-orientated grain that it was written in. ...read more.

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