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Empowerment of Women in Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and The Taming of the Shrew

Empowerment of Women in Much Ado About Nothing, As You Like It, and The Taming of the Shrew

In Shakespeare’s comedies, many – possibly even most – of the female characters are portrayed as being manipulated, if not controlled outright, by the men in their lives: fathers, uncles, suitors, husbands. And yet, there are women inhabiting Shakespeare’s comedic world who seem to enjoy a greater degree of autonomy and personal power than one would expect in a patriarchal society. Superficially, therefore, Shakespeare’s comedies appear to send mixed signals regarding the notion of female empowerment. Some women are strong and independent, others are completely submissive, and the behavior of either seems to be influenced more by theme or plot than by any qualities within the characters themselves.

A closer look, though, should make it evident that this is not the case; as in many of Shakespeare’s plays, appearances can be deceiving. In some cases, the exterior behavior is a deliberate façade to mask the character’s real feelings; in others, it is an acculturated veneer that is burned away as a result of the play’s events. Despite their outward appearances, though, most of these comedic women belong to one of two opposing archetypes. An examination of these archetypes allows the reader to see past such deceptions to the real personality beneath.

The “Daughter” and “Niece” Archetypes

Within Shakespeare’s comedies, many of the female characters are portrayed as submissive and easily controlled. Like dutiful daughters, these women submit to patriarchal repression with little complaint.

Perhaps the best example of a “daughter” character in Shakespearean comedy is the role of Hero in Much Ado About Nothing. Hero is completely under the control of her father Leonato, especially with regard to courtship. When, in Act Two, Leonato believes that Don Pedro may seek Hero’s hand in marriage, he orders Hero to welcome the prince’s advances despite the difference in their ages: “Daughter, remember what I told you. If the Prince do solicit you in that kind, you know your answer” (II.i.61-3). Thus we see that Leonato controls not only Hero’s actions, but even her words as well.

In fact, Hero is so thoroughly repressed by the male-dominated society in which she lives that she submits not only to her father’s will, but to that of nearly every other man in the play. She is easily wooed and won by Don Pedro posing as Claudio (II.

Benedick’s False Love in Much Ado About Nothing

Benedick’s False Love in Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing is one of William Shakespeare’s best comedies and love stories. What is not to like about a play that is hilarious, romantic, and has a happy ending? In this play the foremost and most intriguing character is Benedick, a man who is a devout bachelor and who does not believe he will ever find the perfect woman; –because perfect is exactly what he must have. This may seem to be a harsh and pessimistic outlook on life, but the way Shakespeare brings this character to life portrays Benedick as a funny and caring man who really is not that certain about what he wants for the future. Benedick’s counterpart in the play is Beatrice who is an independent woman with a quick tongue. Benedick and Beatrice despise and cannot stand each other because it is seemingly impossible for them to have a conversation without arguing and angering each other. The two of them provide some of the more amusing scenes of the play with their word play and mocking of each other. In reality though, they have much in common that they have yet to realize. Both of them despise marriage, are witty, and are each their own persons. These however are not the reasons why they come together. They are brought together by their respective companions who conspire to tell each of them that the one loves the other as the two misdirected lovers listen in. In his speech directly after this, Benedick is swayed to a life that he previously would have avoided at all costs. In hearing of Beatrice’s supposed affection he immediately changes his entire outlook on perpetual bachelorhood and pronounces a love that is not real or his own, but comes secondhand from trickery.

Benedick “neve…

… middle of paper …

… man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot

endure in his age. Shall quips and sentences and

these paper bullets of the brain awe a man from the

career of his humor? No! The world must be peo-

pled. When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not 245

think I should live till I were married. Here comes

Beatrice. By this day, she’s a fair lady. I do spy some

marks of love in her.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William; Much Ado About Nothing; Washington Square Press; New York, NY; New Folger Edition May 1995

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