How does Shakespeare challenge the conventional role of women within the patriarchal society of Much Ado About Nothing.

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Musonda Malama.    

English Literature Coursework


How does Shakespeare challenge the conventional role of women within the patriarchal society of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’.

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is set in a patriarchal society in the late 16th century. In a patriarchal society, men are the dominating sex and women are the oppressed ones. The title of the play also plays a part in showing how things are overly based on sexual relationships between men and women. The play takes place over a course of three days.

As so much happens during these three days, the events take place rapidly and can create confusion and misunderstanding.

‘Much Ado About Nothing’ is a play of wit, deception and slander. It is full of darkness just as much as it is full of light. For Beatrice, a pre-occupation with death arises from her entrapment within a court whose practices she does not admire. She constantly tries to oppose the views of her society with which she doesn’t agree. The treatment of gender issues in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ would have been central to its impact on Elizabethan audiences. Women, stereotypically, were expected to be silent, gentle, passive and submissive. Independent women were regarded with suspicion and interest. In the first three scenes, the male characters continually criticise the females. Benedick voices the traditional patriarchal ideology through his constant criticism of women’s actions and sexual lightness. An example of this is when he says “that a woman conceived me I thank her; that she brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks; I will not do them the wrong to mistrust any, I will do myself the right and trust none”. This can be ironic as Queen Elizabeth, the head of the country, was the exact opposite of the stereotypical image of how a woman was supposed to be. She projected an androgynous persona.

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Beatrice is a fearless woman, who engages in verbal warfare with other people, including both women and men. This is very unusual for a woman in a patriarchal society. Her greatest challenger is of course, Benedick. It is through this verbal bantering that the audience can see their strengths and gets to hear their opinions, and together they glory in the challenge of their next duel. Beatrice’s gratuitous impertinence and unseeming forwardness upsets many people.  She comes across as feminist and says at one point that she “would rather hear her dog bark at a crow than a man ...

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The Quality of Written Communication is excellent. The candidate shows an extremely well-attuned use of the English language, offering a variety of sentences structures and grammatical techniques. Spelling is flawless and the answer is punctuated accurately.

The Level of Analysis has all the telling signs of an A grade essay. Whilst on the lengthy side, very few points made don't earn any points. Where the candidate diverges a little and discusses Hero is quite possibly too much depth required for a question that orientates around Beatrice, there is sufficient reasoning evident meaning that it wasn't completely in vain. However, in an exam, under time constraints, it may be worth deciding which analysis is imperative and which is surplus, so as to make sure you don't run out of time. The analysis of how Beatrice rebels against the convention of the time is very good and covers a diverse range of points spanning rom her hatred of Benedick being generalised to all men (I would rather hear a dog bark at a crow than a man say he loved me"), to how she commands Benedick once declaring her love for him ("Kill Claudio"), all of which create a very strong response to the question.

This question asks candidates to analyse how Shakespeare challenges the accepted behaviour of women at the time to play was written. The candidate correctly identifies the characters that require analysis (Beatrice, with a comparison to Hero), and also draws on a range of evidence from various scenes within the play to back up the points they make about Beatrice's unconventional insubordination.