William Shakespeare as the Feminist

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William Shakespeare’s plays have had an astounding impact on literature not only during his time, but for the many generations to come. Today, Shakespeare’s writing is known all across the world and has left its impact on movies, theatre, literature, and even the english language itself. Before Shakespeare, theatre was a pleasure that only the well educated and wealthy could partake in, so theatre was not something that the general public would be able to take part in or relate to. Unlike the other playwrights of his time, Shakespeare was able to captivate the masses due to his dynamic characters and themes that portrayed universal truths of human existence rather than the lavish lifestyle of the wealthy. Not only this, but his writing had powerful messages that went against societal norms which marginalized many groups, women in particular.

Women during Elizabethan England were treated and considered to be inferior to men. They were seen as property who were traded in marriage if they were of noble stature or, if not, often dispatched into service by their fathers. Their role in society was to bear children and be loyal to their husbands. Although many women in this era were well educated, they still weren't given the freedom of real education in schools like the men of this era. Along with this they were unable to pursue any careers like their male counterparts could such as law, medecine, and politics. In a world where women were seen as the inferior and weaker sex, Shakespeare’s writing often portrayed powerful women who challenged, albeit sometimes exemplified, the many gender roles that society enforced. In his plays women were free to be just as witty, sharp, and brave, sometimes even more so, than their male counterparts. The plays Othello, Twelfth Night, and Much Ado About Nothing portrays female characters who have either challenged or exemplified the role of women during Shakespeare's time.

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In the play Othello, Shakespeare heavily portrays societies racism towards the main character Othello. Even though Othello is the main focus in the play, Shakespeare portrays three female characters who have all not only challenged their societal roles but have also been shown bending at the will of society's expectations set for them. One of these female characters, Desdemona is shown in the beginning of the play marrying the main character Othello. This marriage is done unbeknownst to her father, Brabantio, who is later enraged when discovering her daughter is marrying a black man. When confronting Desdemona in her choice of marrying Othello, Desdemona goes against her father and stays with him leading to Brabantio disowning her. A daughter going against her father is something that's unheard of during the Elizabethan era where the father was seen as the male figure that their daughters depended on and must answer to before they’re wed to their husbands. Families were based on the male line and the females were treated as inferior beings within their households to essentially be raised to one day become good future wives. Although Desdemona goes against this particular societal norm for women, she is still seen as a character who exemplifies the female roles of this society. Later in the play when Othello is seen becoming more possessive, demanding, and doubtful of Desdemona's loyalty she is seen becoming submissive and bending at his will.

The second female in Othello, Bianca, isn't a character that is seen often in the play, but her minor role influences the plot of the play due to her fiery jealousy which aids Iago. In regards to her portrayal of women during this time, Bianca economically is at the bottom in their society and sells herself to make ends meet, because of this she is constantly called derogatory terms which in today's language would equate to being called a whore or prostitute. Her character shows the sexual double standards of their society. Cassio can still be regarded as a respectable citizen not only for his status but also for being a male even though Bianca is seen as less than for having sexual relations with Cassio out of wedlock. The third female character in Othello who not only plays an important role in the outcome of the play, but also is seen as a powerful women who is directly seen challenging society's expectations and standards set for women is Emilia.

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William Shakespeare as the Feminist. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 19, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/william-shakespeare-as-the-feminist/
“William Shakespeare as the Feminist.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/william-shakespeare-as-the-feminist/
William Shakespeare as the Feminist. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/william-shakespeare-as-the-feminist/> [Accessed 19 Jul. 2024].
William Shakespeare as the Feminist [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2024 Jul 19]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/william-shakespeare-as-the-feminist/
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