William Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing
* Extract from Act 2 Scene 1 * Line
Antonio: Well, niece I trust you’ll be ruled 43
Beatrice: Yes faith, it is my cousin’s duty to
curtsy, and say, father as it please you.
Does this extract reflect Shakespeare’s presentation of women in the
and what is your response to this
presentation 400 years later?
Shakespeare’s presentation of the main female characters in “Much Ado
About Nothing” is insightfully conveyed in Act 2, scene 1.
“Well niece, I trust you’ll be ruled by your father”.
The dominant nature of the male characters in the play is expressed
with reference to being “ruled”, which suggests the oppression of
women in Elizabethan society. In the context of the quotation, this
implication of patriarchy is in regards to the act of marriage.
However, deeper meaning may be established in assuming this ascendancy
in terms of all aspects of an Elizabethan woman’s life. To a modern
audience, such patriarchy would seem irrational and unacceptable.
However, the context in terms of time period to which this play was
written must be considered.
With reference to the use of the word “father”, it may be construed
that father figures determined the decisions of Elizabethan women
until marriage. Use of the assumption “I trust” in this statement
highlights the custom and normality to such a concept in these times.
The fact that Shakespeare ends Antonio’s speech with a full stop
rather than a question mark portrays this as a command rather than a
request. This suggests the remark as obligation as opposed to option
and enforces the powerless position of women of the era. This
statement was made rhetorically, in that an answer could be assumed
rather than replied. However, Beatrice takes the initiative to answer
on behalf of her cousin with:
“Yes faith it is my cousin’s duty to make curtsy, and say, father as
it please you.”
Through Beatrice’s sharp-tongued character, Shakespeare is able to
ridicule the subservient role of a traditional sixteenth or
seventeenth century maiden, by reducing her cousin to a docile mute,
who’s only “duty” in life is to “curtsy” and unconditionally follow
her father’s will. Yet again, we are reminded of the inequality
between men and women in previous centuries. To a modern audience, the
character of Beatrice would seem most sensible, in sharing the view of
such male domination being completely absurd. As a modern day reader,
I sympathise with this superior character, trapped in a period of
oppression and restraint.