Shakespeare: Empowering Women Essay

3354 words - 13 pages

In the midst of a male-dominant society - sixteenth century Elizabethan England - Shakespeare portrays women with strengths at least equal to those of men. By so doing, he opens the door for them politically as well as socially, well in advance of any legal rights being granted to women. It has been argued that Shakespeare's views of women can be logically traced to the characters he has created (Kolin 11). He "came as close to exposition of a system of practical values as he could, without creating characters to serve as mouthpieces for his own ideas" (Greer 39). If this is true, he had very modern views of women, men, and equality, believing that women are equal to men. Germaine Greer confirms this with, "Shakespeare views marriage as a partnership between equals, sexually vibrant, committed, constant, and practical" (39).

In his Comedies, Shakespeare empowers women over men in two distinct ways. First of all, focusing on the idea that they are the agents in Elizabethan society of happiness and order (Pitt 48), he allows for major female roles. Perhaps he felt, too, that some day women would be able to play their own roles on the stage instead of having them played by boys. He wanted them to have equal, and sometimes more prominent parts than men on stage, with hopes that this equality would filter into society. This is true, especially in the Comedies, where women naturally fit in because of their role in society to `be happy'. Another way that Shakespeare gives women power is with the theme of disguise. As female characters don disguises of men, they often assume a more powerful disposition. It is true that when a person dresses a certain way, he or she is likely to act accordingly. Law enforcement officers, firefighters, and military men, all seem to possess a certain quality, which enables them to accomplish their duties. It is as if the uniform gives them extra courage. The same holds true when women dress as men. Gone are the dainty, helpless, and frivolous attributes usually linked to women; they are replaced with the dominant, protector, and leadership qualities associated with men.

Elizabethan women were expected to be submissive and obedient. The orthodox view was that `women were subordinate to men' (Draper 162). This view stemmed from the story of Adam and Eve, where Adam was created first and Eve was created out of one of his ribs. Also, Adam's obedience was `due directly to God, (while) hers to God via him' (Draper 162). It was immoral for women to be on stage, so boys played the female roles in the theatre. Although Shakespeare's women never would go beyond what would typically be acceptable in society, they challenged the limits of conventional ideas of womanhood. Shakespeare chose women as dominant characters in the Comedies, bringing to light their role in society as `agents of happiness and order' (Pitt 48). While men dominate the tragedies, Shakespeare highlights the role of women in society...

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