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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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. Beatrice’s outward smutty nature can be marked in juxtaposition to Hero’s lack of independence and confidence (a woman who occupies the role of a tragic heroine, rather than a comic one, barely utters a word throughout the play, and succumbs totally to the homosocial ruling class of Messina). Behind her witty exterior, and her constant determination not to be seen as weak, Beatrice can be seen as inquisitive about Benedick’s time away, showing she cares for him; this would conform to Renaissance standards for it was anticipated that all women would fall into the arms of a man. Being a standard feature of romantic comedy, the female protagonist typically begins by hating the man she loves, mirroring the structural pattern of beginning in discord and ending in accord.

Furthermore, Beatrice, the stock character of the shrew, is exposed as a woman whose opinion of marriage definitely subverts the status quo. Asserting that she will not marry “till God make men of some other metal than earth”, her unconventionality of not wanting a husband can be seen explicitly. An Elizabethan audience could deem this to be impractical and absurd; however a contemporary feminist critic may praise her for her independence. Most noteworthy perhaps, is when she says she will “cry “Heigh-ho for a husband!”” illustrating that the fact she is without a lover bothers her more than we may have assumed previously. Consequently, she initiates an impetuous proposal from Don Pedro which is fascinating as we are left unsure as to whether it was merely a jest or actually sincere – this confusion and chaos being predictable of a comedy. In my opinion the proposal was sincere as Don Pedro is left unhappy at the end of the joyous comedy: “Prince, thou art sad; get thee a wife”. Although, staying true to her word, Beatrice turns down the offer, on the basis that his “Grace is too costly to wear every day.” But there is dramatic irony in this; it is evident that she does not want a husband, so the audience is fully aware that the plot will alter in due time, ending in a married Beatrice. Again, this is conventional of a romantic comedy, where the female heroine will ultimately revise her original opinion of the man.

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Additionally, Beatrice’s discontent with the lack of respect and regard she receives as a woman manifests itself in her wish that she was a man. Beatrice is clearly aware of her inability to act against Claudio (purely because of her gender), after he shuns Hero at the altar. Beatrice declares “O God, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market place!” The metaphor used here creates an image of a savage and ruthless Beatrice (implying she would kill Claudio, rip his heart out and then eat it); traits which definitely are not associated with the ...

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