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What attitudes are displayed about the roles of women in the play 'Much Ado About Nothing'?

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Introduction

What attitudes are displayed about the roles of women in the play 'Much Ado About Nothing'? In what ways does a modern audience respond to this aspect of the play? In this coursework, I am going to discuss what attitudes are displayed about the roles of women in the play 'Much Ado About Nothing'. I will also examine which ways a modern audience responds to this aspect of the play. The genre of the play is comedy and it was first performed at court in 1613. The play is centred on two couples - Beatrice and Benedick and Claudio and Hero. It was originally titled 'Benedicke and Betteris' and Shakespeare obviously wanted the audience to focus more on these characters rather than the main 'ado', which concerns Don John's plot to prevent the marriage between Hero and Claudio. Beatrice is the strongest female role in the play. She has 'so swift and excellent a wit' (Act 3.1 line 89), that most of the male characters do not dare to cross her. Benedick alone is her equal, and their wit is not just a means of defending themselves, but how they present themselves to others. Beatrice's shrewish nature comes to the surface when the subjects of marriage or Benedick are raised, but it would be wrong to think Beatrice is only a literary stereotype as she has so much more to her character. ...read more.

Middle

(Act 1.1, line 169). The modern audience questions whether his love for her is justified - he is in love with her beauty, not her personality. There is no reference to them ever having spoken or having an understanding before Claudio went to war, all he says is that he 'looked upon her with a soldier's eye...saying I liked her ere I went to wars' (Act 1.1, line 278). Here he means that he thought she was beautiful, but didn't have the time to love her - he was more concerned with thinking about war. Another reason the modern audience can dislike Claudio's love for Hero is when he asks Don Pedro 'Hath Leonato any son, my lord?' (Act 1.1, line 273). Here he is interested in what Hero could bring in the way of a dowry to the marriage. However, as a Governor's daughter, Hero has a higher social status than Claudio - and this marriage will elevate him in society (another reason for Claudio to be interested in Hero). Don John also notices this when he says 'that young start-up hath all the glory of my overthrow' (Act 1.3, lines 61-2). He is jealous of Claudio being in favour with his brother - yet he, himself has a lower social status because he is illegitimate. ...read more.

Conclusion

Here is an example of her true personality. When around her father she is submissive, quiet and respectful, which were valued traits in women in Elizabethan society. But when she is in the company of Don Pedro in Act 2.1, she is flirtatious, confident and witty. In Act 3.1 she enjoys slandering Beatrice as she is normally the one controlling Hero. Now Hero can say what she likes, because she cannot reveal that she has been eavesdropping on the conversation. In conclusion, the role of women in Elizabethan society was limited as they were not allowed to enter the professions (such as law and medicine), but they were allowed to be tutored privately. Most noble women did have a good education because their families did not want them to seem unintelligent when they had a very clever queen on the throne. Men only saw women as whores or wives, someone to be idolised, as adulterers or as the shrew. Shakespeare uses all these stereotypes in the play to showcase the broad range of opinions. It is clear that he is not entirely biased against women and he includes the song 'Sigh No More Ladies', showing the infidelity and deceitfulness of men. He tries to present accurate and balanced views of society, and in doing that shows that a lot of men in the play are fearful of being cuckolded. ...read more.

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