Have Not We Affections: The Romantic Power Struggles Of Shakespeare’s Women

2348 words - 10 pages

From the bitter Emilia to the pious Isabella, Shakespeare was a champion of crafting women. With a wide range of personalities, professions, and situations, Shakespeare mastered early in his illustrious career the art of creating diverse, dynamic, and multidimensional female characters. When stepping outside the traditional roles for female characters in theater, Shakespeare pushed boundaries by giving his women intelligent wit, innate humor, motives and goals which the Elizabethan and Jacobean audiences could relate directly to their own experiences. More than anything else, Shakespeare created a race of theatrical females who were first and foremost described as complete human women with virtues and vices which were believable and realistic. With these attributes, Shakespeare’s women were able to perceive unequal distributions of power in their worlds, particularly the distribution of power in the romantic relationships which in many cases were chosen for them. Comprehending with a bitter distaste the lack of control they held over their future lives, the women of Shakespeare took matters into their own hands more often than not, utilizing revolutionary or unconventional means to gain dominance in the power dynamics of their relationships. William Shakespeare offered his female characters the abilities and opportunities to recognize their subordinate positions concerning romantic relationships as well as the initiative to attempt a shift in these power dynamics.
Perhaps the most conventional example of Shakespeare’s powerless women, Juliet Capulet of Romeo and Juliet begins her tragic love story in a state of docile servitude which was wholly “accordant with the manners of the time.”(Jameson) The young girl, not yet fourteen, following the duties and feminine routines set forth for her use centuries before her birth, is obedient and unaware of her subservience for much of the beginning of the play. Her hand, promised to Paris in a few years’ time, had already been bargained by her father, Capulet, in a disturbingly business-like fashion. An exchange which looks more to the onlooker like the purchase of an farm animal than the marriage proposal of a nobleman is punctuated by Capulet negotiating a fair agreement for his daughter’s marriage: “Let two more summers wither in their pride / Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.” (I.ii.280-281) Here, Capulet establishes his sole volition over Juliet’s hand. Expounding upon Juliet’s submissive role as daughter, when asked how she likes this proposal of marriage, she replies simply with: “I'll look to like, if looking liking move: / But no more deep will I endart mine eye / Than your consent gives strength to make it fly.” (I.iii.482-484)
It is only after Juliet’s incredible attraction to Romeo, only after her passionate infatuation with the son of the enemy, only after her hasty, afternoon marriage does Juliet begin to awaken and comprehend the utter lack of power she possess over her own life....

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