How far does Shakespeare challenge Elizabethan society's ideas about gender in Much Ado about Nothing

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Rosie Baulcombe                         Shakespeare Coursework                February/ March ’06

Candidate number: 2011                               JAD                              Centre number: 26324

How far would you agree that is Shakespeare challenging Elizabethan society’s ideas about gender in Much Ado about Nothing?

Much Ado About Nothing is a Shakespearian comedy set in Elizabethan society where men were dominant though they had a wide range of attitudes to the positions of women as is explored by the key male characters in the play. In order to detach it from the English audience it is located in Sicily, which meant the play was able to dispute stereotypes about gender without offending or enraging its addressees. Women were meant to be submissive, obedient and silent which are all virtues employed by Hero but deliberately ignored by Beatrice. These two opposing characters are what unmask the true sentiments of the other characters in the play.

The play begins with the men returning from war victorious, which immediately sets them all up as heroes. All except Don John who is introduced as a bastard therefore making him a stereotyped Elizabethan villain. The dominant male is Leonato who immediately shows he is a misogynist: when questioned about Hero, his daughter; he says, “Her mother hath often told me so”, which implies that women cannot be trusted. The only woman to speak in Act one Scene one is Beatrice and even she says little; as it seems that the men have taken centre stage from the very beginning. Don Pedro’s associate Claudio immediately falls for Hero even though she has not spoken a word to either of them. He falls for her beauty, “how fair young Hero is,” she has not yet spoken so they cannot have fallen for her wit or intelligence. They both treat her as property “thou shalt have her” and Don Pedro allows Claudio to have Hero which not only shows that he does not care about her feelings but also allows him to use his role as Prince to control the lives of others, thus conforming to the stereotype of governing males being authorized to do as they wish.  Leonato also treats Hero as a possession when he speaks with his brother, Antonio; he is pleased to hear that the Prince may be interested in his daughter.

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Hero and Claudio are a very conventional young couple and are happy to conform to the accepted rituals of aristocratic Elizabethan courtship and marriage. Hero’s name represents faithful love so when Claudio accuses her of cheating she is distraught and does not understand how he could be so mistaken; she exclaims “Oh God defend me, how I am beset!” This shows that when she agreed to marry him she was perfectly contented with the role she was to take on and would not dream of betraying her father and fiancée. It is clear that Hero is innocent as she ...

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