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Comparing the Role of Women in Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night

The Role of Women in Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night

Many critics have lambasted the female characters in Shakespeare’s plays as two-dimensional and unrealistic portrayals of subservient women. Others have asserted that the roles of women in his plays were prominent for the time and culture that he lived in. Two works, Taming of the Shrew, and Twelfth Night, stand out particularly well in regards to Shakespeare’s use of female characters. After examining these two plays, one will see that Shakespeare, though conforming to contemporary attitudes of women, circumvented them by creating resolute female characters with a strong sense of self.

The Taming of the Shrew is one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, and has weathered well into our modern era with adaptations into popular television series such as Moonlighting. For all the praises it has garnered throughout the centuries, it is curious to note that many have considered it to be one of his most controversial in his treatment of women. The “taming” of Katherine has been contended as being excessively cruel by many writers and critics of the modern era. George Bernard Shaw himself pressed for its banning during the 19th century (Peralta). The subservience of Katherine has been labeled as barbaric, antiquated, and generally demeaning. The play centers on her and her lack of suitors. It establishes in the first act her shrewish demeanor and its repercussions on her family. It is only with the introduction of the witty Petruchio as her suitor, that one begins to see an evolution in her character. Through an elaborate charade of humiliating behavior, Petruchio humbles her and by the end of the play, she will instruct other women on the nature of being a good and dutiful wife.

In direct contrast to Shrew, is Twelfth Night, whose main female protagonist is by far the strongest character in the play. The main character Viola, has been stranded in a foreign land and adopts the identity of her brother so that she might live independently without a husband or guardian. She serves as a courtier to a young, lovesick nobleman named Orsino. Throughout the play she plays as a go-between for him to the woman he loves. In the course of her service, she falls in love with him. Only at the end, does she renounce her male identity and declares her love for him.

Free Essays on The Crucible: Theme Development

Theme Development in The Crucible

The Crucible by Arthur Miller is a historical play,

but more importantly a social and psychological drama.

The various ways the themes are developed through The

Crucible are through characters, plot, setting and


The importance of the witch-trials is, according to

Raymond Williams, that in them ‘the moral crisis of a

society is explicit, is directly enacted and stated,

in such a way that the quality of the whole way of

life is organically present and evident in the

qualities of persons’ (Drama from Ibsen to Brecht,

1968). For Williams this is a dramatic device that

enables the playwright to explore the evil forces in

Salem society let loose by the revelation of


Rebecca nurse warns that ‘there is prodigious danger

in the seeking of loose spirits. I fear it. I fear it.

Let us rather blame ourselves!’ But her warning is not

heeded and a pandora’s box is opened. We see the greed

of Thomas Putnam; the quest for revenge on those who

have wronged them, carried out by Martha Corey and

Abigail Williams; Ann Putnam’s jealousy of the fertile

Rebecca Nurse and Abigail’s jealousy of Elizabeth

Proctor; the ambition of Hale and Parris, both of whom

seek public approval; the fear of punishment that

initially motivates Abigail and the other girls; then

the revelling in power they display during the trial.

Above all The Crucible investigates the mass hysteria

which infects the whole community.

The notion of evil is central to The Crucible. To

understand the play without thinking about what Miller

is trying to say on the subject is not possible. It is

obvious that we are looking at wickedness as it is

after all, the story of a witch-trial, and involves a

good deal of both physical and spiritual cruelty. What

is not so obvious is that the playwright is setting up

two different models of evil. He shows us what people

take it to be, and then demonstrates that they have

got it largely wrong. They are looking in the wrong

place, chasing the wrong symptoms, prosecuting the

supposedly wicked and leaving the genuinely bad


The false model of evil is something defined by a set

of external rules- not going to church regularly, not

knowing the commandments, cursing and living out of

wedlock. These were the tests that were given to the

accused in the witch-trials and were proven guilty.

The model of good, which is still false, is that

obeying these same rules equates to good. By this

false model, Parris, the Putnams and the girls are all

pure. We stereotype, and ignore individual variations.

We confuse the external show with the internal truth,

and we get into the sort of nightmarish charade which

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