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Shakespeare and Gender Issues

Shakespeare's females, Twelth Night, and Gender.
by

Julian Class

on 8 June 2011

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Transcript of Shakespeare and Gender Issues

Shakespeare and gender issues By: Julian Class The purpose of this Prezi will be to examine various examples of female roles in William Shakespeare’s works, he himself, knowing full well that they would be played by men. This piece will also discuss the debate whether or not Shakespeare and his works reflect sexist ideals. Before women started performing in Shakespearean plays, men had to dress up as women to portray the female roles. Society at the time viewed women as inferior to men. Consequently, women were not allowed to perform on stage. I decided to do some research on this topic, however before doing so, I had to understand that during these times, society was very different from our own. The rights of women were very different, and women’s liberation was, as of yet, unheard of. Thankfully, this is not the case anymore in today’s society, because we have grown to become accepting of gender equality. To begin, one of the questions I had was, “Was Shakespeare a sexist man, and furthermore, a sexist writer?” After looking into this matter, many different answers surfaced. Some answered, “Yes! Shakespeare was indeed sexist,” due in large part to the fact that during those times, men were viewed as superior, and even Shakespeare himself, while directing his works, would cast men into the female roles. Some feminists have considered Shakespeare a misogynist, citing such examples as Hamlet’s monologue in Act one, Scene Two, lines 144-148 of the play. “Hamlet:

Heaven and earth,

Must I remember? Why, she would hang on him

As if increase of appetite had grown

By what it fed on, and yet, within a month—

Let me not think on't—Frailty, thy name is woman! —”

(Durband, 1986) Other sources however, repudiated this claim, because of the large number of diverse female characters that Shakespeare created, many of whom were major characters in his works, such as Lady MacBeth, Ophelia, or Juliet Capulet. However, the fact remains, that back then, it wasn’t considered sexism, but normal life. This truly is a debated topic which really depends on an individual’s point of view. It’s strange indeed, how Shakespeare was considered a misogynist, even though he wrote such wonderful roles for women. One example of a great female role would be the that of Lady Macbeth, who helped led Macbeth into killing the king in order to steal the crown. Even though she is a woman, she has crucial significance to the story. Another great female of Shakespeare’s creation, is Ophelia from Hamlet. It could be argued that her suicide pushed Hamlet over the edge, leading to his dark spiral down, and ultimately the tragic events of the rest of the play. Shakeapeare wrote his females like he wrote his males, with different personalities, different traits, and different habits. She drowned herself in the river due to her father’s death, and the denial of Hamlet’s love. On the other hand however, these very same women later went insane and killed themselves; Lady MacBeth hanging herself, and Ophelia drowning herself in the river. In the comedy “Twelfth Night”, Shakespeare actually creates a female character that resembles the character’s identical twin brother, who was lost at sea. During the show, she goes so far as to dress herself as a man. This would have been unheard of in Shakespeare’s time for two reasons, the first of which is that people in the sixteenth century felt that cross-dressing, or the idea of a women dressing as a man was considered wrong. The second reason, is that a male actor, would be playing the female character, would have to disguise him/her self as a male. Therefore, a male would have to portray a female disguised as a male. In all, the female gender has been treated almost as a literary device in and of itself in Shakespeare’s works. He has used woman to push along stories, and when they were no longer of use, he has written them crazy, and cast them to such fates as suicide. Whether or not this makes Shakespeare a misogynist is not for me to say, however, it is certain, that if it weren’t for his strong female characters, and their nonconformity to the social taboos of the time (as is evident in many of Shakespeare’s works) his plays would not be remembered. There is no Romeo & Juliet without Juliet, and there is no Lysander and Hermia without Hermia. Just the same, there is no Shakespeare without women. Thanks for watching!
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