How does Shakespeare dramatically present power and authority in the relationship between men and women in Much Ado about Nothing

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How does Shakespeare dramatically present power and authority in the relationship between men and women in Much Ado about Nothing?

One of the key explorations of power and authority in “Much Ado About Nothing” is the relationship between Hero and Leonato as father and daughter. The play was written in Elizabethan England, and social attitudes of the period, together with long standing tradition, influence Shakespeare’s portrayal of the “proper” relationship between father and daughter, and duty they owed to each other. In “Much Ado About Nothing” it is very much a patriarchal society, where rank and position rule supreme and women are submissive position to men, whether fathers or husbands. This “male dominance” is most acutely represented by the nature of arranged marriage. When the suspicion that the Prince wants to woo Hero is born, Leonato instructs her in what she must do. Indeed, Antonio believes that Hero “will be ruled by your father”. He automatically assumes that Leonato has the right to command Hero. He decides who she will marry, amply demonstrated again, when after Claudio’s denunciation of her he still gives her to him in marriage. Even stranger, to us as a modern audience, is Hero’s passive acceptance of what her father decides her fate should be. This is a central point in understanding Shakespeare’s representation of social structure at the time, since the authority Leonato had over Hero was absolute, and she as a daughter was indeed completely submissive to her father.

This idea, however, is refuted by Beatrice’s comments in Act 2, Scene 2, by her statement that although Hero must “curtsy, and say father as it please you”, she should also ensure that her husband is a “handsome fellow” or she should make another curtsy and say “father as it please me”. However, while Beatrice does publicly denounce the more stringent aspects of arranged marriage, and displays herself as a thinking character, there is an indication in the play that both Leonato and Antonio dismiss her view e.g.“she is too curst” This shows that older men didn’t hold a woman’s opinion in much value, which might be the reason for Hero’s reluctance to offer her opinion in front of men. Beatrice championing this view of female choice, not Hero, only further serves to distinguish the positions of the two women in relation to male power. On first view, Hero is the obedient female character, while Beatrice is the abrasive character.  However, this position is challenged by Hero’s firmness in dealing with other women “my cousin is a fool, and so are you”. Indeed, both men and women have much more different patterns of behaviour when outside each other’s company. Hero is covert, silent and publicly unassertive in front of men, because she doesn’t believe that she will be listened to. Beatrice is the only female character who Shakespeare presents as unconstrained by this restriction. However, the only male character that seems to listen to her is Benedict, which only magnifies the uniqueness of the two characters, both as a couple and as individuals, in that Beatrice is not tamed by male power, and Benedict acknowledges female wisdom.

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In Hero’s character, Shakespeare demonstrates the traditional values of an Elizabethan maid, as Claudio says “a modest young lady”. As such her relationship with other men reflects this ideal woman, by showing her submissive behaviour. Although Claudio and Leonato wronged her by their doubt, others defend her because of those qualities. It is the power of her fidelity and innocence that convinces the Friar of her truthfulness. Her behaviour to other women and her final “victory” over the malicious slander can be perceived as Shakespeare’s attempt to portray a woman who achieves what she wants by using more subtle and conventional ...

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