Women In Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing And Taming Of The Shrew

1954 words - 8 pages

During the early modern period, despite Queen Elizabeth’s powerful rule in the mid-sixteenth century, women in England had very few social, economic, and legal rights. According to the British system of coverture, a married man and wife became one person under the law, thus, “all the legal rights and responsibilities a woman had when she was single transferred to her husband upon marriage” (McBride-Stetson 189). Additionally, once married, the entirety of a woman’s property and wages came under the husband’s control; thus, in essence, women became the responsibility and property of their husbands (McBride-Stetson 189). Shakespeare, through his writings, illustrates the early modern period’s obsession with maintaining the legal subordination of women through marriage. Shakespeare’s leading lady in The Taming of the Shrew severely contrasts her obedient and demure sister and, in doing so, transcends the gender roles appropriated to her and, thus, must be tamed. In contrast, Much Ado About Nothing’s Hero plays the role of the ideal early modern woman until the nature of her chastity comes into question. Despite the fundamental differences between the characters of these two women, the financial and object-based language used to describe women as well as the institution of marriage in The Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado About Nothing demonstrate the early modern period’s view of women as pieces of property.

The play introduces Petruccio as Katherine’s potential suitor before Petruccio, in fact, meets Katherine; however, Petruccio asserts, “I have thrust myself into this maze/ Happily to wive and thrive as I may” (1.2.52-53). Interestingly, Petruccio lists “wiving” as his first goal, followed by “thriving.” In a sense, the listing of marriage as Petruccio’s initial goal depicts Petruccio’s belief that through marrying, or “wiving,” he will be able to achieve financial gain, or “thriving,” his second listed goal, presumably through his wife’s dowry. Had Petruccio exclaimed that his goal was to “thrive and wive,” one may be able to argue that he planned on making money in order to attract a wife; however, the order of Petruccio’s proposed goals imply that his “wiving” will, in turn, effect his “thriving.” Furthermore, Petruccio’s note that he will “happily” “wive and thrive” suggests that the source of his happiness will come from his financial gain, a result of his marriage. Petruccio again confirms this by announcing “I come to wive it wealthily in Padua;/ If wealthily, then happily in Padua” (1.2.72-73) Thus, according to Petruccio, if a man can “wive” a woman with a grand dowry that will cause the man to become “wealthy,” he will inevitably live “happily.” Additionally, Petruccio admits, “wealth is burden of my wooing dance” and even if his wife is “foul as…Florentius’ love,” or “As old as Sibyl,” it would not “move him” (1.2.69). Clearly, as the passage describes, Petruccio’s “wooing dance,” or courtship, is motivated by “wealth” and...

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