We as a society have come a long way from the discovery of the first light bulb to stepping on the moon. The world has developed, people are more educated, technology has made day-to-day life easier, but what has remained the same is the social stratification people had to and still have to deal with. This social stratification is not based on merit or education, it is merely a gift or burden you are born with. If you are lucky you would be born to a Duke and Duchess and if not then you would be born to a common blacksmith. The issue of social stratification has been part of our society for a long time. Gender, race or sexuality should not determine how people are treated. In order to better tackle the ideologies of gender and/ or race and/ or sexuality I will be focusing on the play ‘Titus Andronicus’ by William Shakespeare, ‘The picture of Dorian Gray’ by Oscar Wilde and ‘Oroonoko’ by Aphra Behn.
William Shakespeare wrote his plays in an era dominated by men. It was a patriarchal society with men dictating the lives of women. Women were not allowed to express their opinions, where the clothes they wanted or even marry the man they fell in love with. The play ‘Titus Andronicus’ is the perfect example of how women were merely pawns in the larger game of power played by men. The play begins with Bassianus and Saturninus fighting over who should be the successor to their father as the emperor of Rome. Soon after being named as the successor by Titus, Saturninus in order to establish his authority claims Lavinia as “Rome’s royal mistress” (1.1.241). Saturninus’ interest in Lavinia in not lustful as he has his eyes for the Gothic Queen Tamora, but Lavinia would help improve the Andronici family name. Lavinia, the only daughter of Titus Andronicus brings with her the trust of her father and hence claiming here strengthens Saturninus’ political position. This is the first instance in the play where a woman’s life gets decided by men and she has no say in it. After Titus yields Lavinia to Saturninus, Bassianus clutches her and announces, “this maid is mine” (1.1.276). Titus surrenders his daughter, a stolen queen and the empire to Saturninus as tribute. The three gifts given by Titus are a representation of power and authority and further the argument of women being mistreated in those times. Tamora and Lavinia’s powers are portrayed very differently in the play. Tamora is a woman who owns her sexuality and can’t be controlled when it comes down to that. On the other hand, Lavinia’s power although sexuality as well, is that of a ‘changing piece” (1.1.309). First, she is claimed by Bassianus as Rome’s rich ornament, then by Saturninus as Rome as well as his own mistress, and finally again by Bassianus as his maid. Through all these exchanges Lavinia was quiet and had no say in the decisions of her own life. The stereotype prevailing in the time was that men had rights in the life of female kin, but the women had no rights in their own lives or the lives of their male kin. When we read the play Tamora comes forth as evil and Lavinia as virtuous and kind. Tamora