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SHAKESPEARE'S FEMALE CHARACTERS
Transcript of SHAKESPEARE'S FEMALE CHARACTERS
They sparkle still the right Promethean fire;
They are the books, the arts, the academes,
That show, contain and nourish all the world.
- William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost.
Devika and Ashna
Vol LXIX, No.1
Merchant of Venice
Merchant of Venice
AS YOU LIKE IT
Nerissa, other than for being Portia’s lady in waiting, she is her closest companion.
Her constant interaction with Portia has elevated her status and she is also witty, charming and polite.
She helps Portia during the court scene, by supporting her as her clerk and is shown to be very influencing as, like Portia she manages to take her husband’s ring.
Jessica is sick and tired of her life. Her father’s mistakes and rules are a burden for her and she cannot live her live freely.
She weds Lorenzo, a Christian and we wonder if she will survive in the community, as she was born a Jew.
She also takes the role of a man, while running away from home to avoid suspiciousness or being caught.
When she exchanges her father’s ring for a monkey, we see how much she despises him and we question whether she is right or wrong and if her soul is in jeopardy.
FEMALE PROTAGONISTS OF JULIUS CAESAR:
The female characters of Julius Caesar, unlike the other two plays play minor roles. Portia, the wife of Brutus and Calphurnia, the wife of Caesar are important characters yet they do not stand out.
Portia is a caring woman, whose love for her husband is very prominent. When Brutus is sorrowful and miserable, she takes care of him and tries to help him ease the pain. She knows him well enough to tell it is not a physical pain but a mental pain that has caused so much trouble. She reminds him of the vows they took and adds a sense of humanitarianism to the play. Her character is very loyal and loving.
FEMALE PROTAGONISTS OF MERCHANT OF VENICE:
In the play Merchant of Venice, we see that even though Antonio, Bassanio and Shylock are the main male protagonists of the play, it is Portia whom they all depend upon.
Portia is a beautiful, charming and witty young lady, whose originality and ability to speak with eloquence is enchanting. She breaks free from the stereotype, ‘Submissive woman inferior to man.’ Through her dialogues, we see how wise Portia is and how powerful a women she can be.
Portia is bound by her father’s will and has to not only obey him, but also her husband Bassanio. When Bassanio’s around, we notice Portia’s quietness and love for her husband that is not returned, but during the trial scene we see the tigress inside her leap out. She becomes fearless, fearful and convincing, leaving us awe stricken
Nerissa and Jessica
Calphurnia is hardly visible during the play. She warns her husband out of love about the ides of march and questions whether it is safe for him to travel to the capital ion this date.
o Caesar however puts pride above his wife’s deterrent and this leads him to his death.
o Both the females aren’t appreciated even though they did what they had to out of love and concern.
o Their right judgment is ignored and dealt with badly.
SHAKESPEARE'S FEMALE CHARACTERS
ANALYSIS AND CONCLUSION
o In Shakespeare’s plays, we see that he portrays his women as witty, charming, strong willed and independent.
o He shows them to be equal and sometimes even superior to men.
o Based on the female characters in the plays ‘Merchant of Venice,’ ‘As You Like It’ and Julius Caesar, we see three very different situations.
o In Merchant of Venice: Portia is a prominent character who is the heroine of the play. She turns it from a tragedy to a comedy by her wit, charm and intelligent actions.
o In As You Like It: Rosalind is more emotionally influential on the people around her and she is dominates the play, as herself, and as Ganymede.
o In Julius Caesar: the female characters- Portia and Calphurnia- are not prominent and do not play a very important role in the play.
o To conclude, we can say that Shakespeare managed to encapsulate the reality of the 16th century situation by making the female characters dress up as men. However, even in a situation where women were either defined by men or had to represent themselves as men, he gave them each a unique and independent identity.
Women are not only supporting characters but also central characters in Shakespeare’s plays.
Shakespeare elevates the status of women through his plays by portraying them to be equal and at times superior to men. His attitude towards women in unusual for a man in the 16th century.
Many of his female characters seem to have a mind of their own and often take the role of a man to be powerful and display their intelligence, wit and charm.
The female characters of Merchant of Venice, Julius Caesar and As You Like It are two-dimensional and we find it difficult to judge their personalities.
STORY LINE AND PLOT
o ‘As You Like It’ is one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays is based on sibling rivalry and royal family issues.
o Rosalind is the daughter of Duke Senior, who is forced into exile in the Forest of Adrenne, by his brother, Duke Fredrick.
o Rosalind and her dearest friend Celia (daughter of Duke Fredrick) are sent to the Forest of Adrenne as well.
o Oliver and Orlando are brothers who have turned against each other due their father’s will.
o Orlando is forced to live in the same forest by Oliver. It is in this forest that Orlando and Rosalind fall in love.
o Rosalind innovatively and skillfully uses her trip to the Forest of Ardenne as an opportunity to take control of her own destiny by disguising herself as a man named Ganymede to achieve her goal.
o When she is dressed as Ganymede, she offers to tutor Orlando by giving him ‘love lessons’ and we get to see Rosalind’s talents and charms on full display.
o This play is a stand out compared to other 16th century plays, as the protagonist is Rosalind, a witty, charming, strong willed and independent minded woman.
o Rosalind’s most cherished character trait is that she influences people around her to think, love, feel and live better than they could earlier. For e.g. She ensures that the courtiers who return from Adrenne are gentler and more humane than they were before.
o She adds the ‘humanitarianism’ element to the play.
o Rosalind dominates the play ‘As You Like It.’ The complexity of her emotions, the subtly of her thought and her whole and complete character is one that no other female character can match up to.
o She has the admirable ability to challenge the limitations imposed on her as a woman, by the society.
o She is creative and bold. She takes the risk of dressing as a man and offering her expertise as a tutor- a role that would not have been welcome had she offered it as a woman.
OTHER FEMALE CHARACTERS
o Celia, Phoebe (a young shepherdess) and Audrey (a goatherd).
o Celia- daughter of Duke Fredrick, Rosalind’s cousin, dear friend and confidant.
o She is loyally goes into exile with Rosalind where Celia disguises herself as a shepherdess named Aliena.
o Celia falls in love with Oliver and the two get married in the end.
o She expresses deep emotions yet is loving.
o Celia is portrayed as a mirror to Rosalind. She reflects Rosalind’s passion and qualities.
o She also acts a contrast and brings out the distinctive qualities in.
o Both of these women embody the spirit of the ideal heroine.
Julius Caesar - Oxford edition
Internet Resources (URLs):
THE ROLE OF FEMALES IN SHAKESPEARE'S PLAYS