How Shakespeare Dramatically Presents Power And Authority In The Relationship Between Men And Women In Much Ado About Nothing

2296 words - 9 pages

How Shakespeare Dramatically Presents 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...

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