Women in Shakespearean Comedies: A Feministic Perspective

By Jajja, Muhammad Ayub | The Journal of Educational Research, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Women in Shakespearean Comedies: A Feministic Perspective


Jajja, Muhammad Ayub, The Journal of Educational Research


Abstract

Shakespearean comedies have been examined from different angles and perspectives by a host of critics, but very few critics have studied these comedies from a feminist perspective. In the few such studies undertaken, there are many controversial assertions and claims. The portrayal of women in Shakespearean comedies has been a subject of some studies, from different angles, but still there is a space and scope for initiating a study to examine the portrayal of women by Shakespeare in his comedies. The present study intends to take care of such issues and fill the possible gaps. The study intends to explore the place and rights of women as they are portrayed in Shakespearean comedies. The study intends to show that Shakespeare apparently seems to project feminism and a liberal attitude towards his women, but actually he ends up on the side of patriarchy, though on occasions, he does portray women from the nascent feministic perspective. As a result, the reader or spectator comes across in these comedies, very submissive and conventional women, who subscribe to patriarchal values in toto. The diversity in the nature of women in Shakespearean comedies reflects the divergent sociocultural trends of the late sixteenth and seventeenth century. The study is based upon the exhaustive text analysis and interpretation of six comedies in the light of Feminism. These comedies are Twelfth Night, Much Ado about Nothing, The Merchant of Venice, The Taming of the Shrew, The Comedy of Errors and A MidSummer Night's Dream. The main hypothesis of the study is that though Shakespeare does not project or promote any particular ideology or agenda, so far as the portrayal of women is concerned, he still is on the side of patriarchy and his comedies strengthen and support the patriarchy and patriarchal values.

Keywords: Feminism, Patriarchy, Subjects, Lord, Possessor, Silence, Modesty, Purity.

Introduction

Patriarchy is the ideology of the superiority of men. It presents men as strong, decisive, rational, capable and competent beings (Tyson, 2007). It works for the subordination of women as the lesser other. It presents women as emotional, weak and irrational. Ultimately it relegates women to a cultural wasteland, where they can't make any meaningful contribution to society (Ray, 1997). Feminist Criticism, among other things, examines the ways in which literature undermines or reinforces the social, political and economic status of women. The present study intends to analyze the major comedies of Shakespeare, with the objective to have an assessment of the portrayal of women in them.

Literature Review

Countless number of critics have examined Shakespearean comedies from different perspectives, many of them have also examined the portrayal of women by Shakespeare in his plays, from different angles, with different findings. For example, A. R. Humphreys in his introduction to Much Ado about Nothing, (2000) has paid attention to almost every aspect of his comedies, like language, poetry, plot construction, characterization and social realism, but he has not focused upon the portrayal of women in Shakespeare's comedies. Juliet Dusinberre has examined the nature of Shakespearean women in her book (2003), to suggest that Feminism started with Shakespeare. Hers is a broader and general comparative study, but she does not pay attention to the individual women portrayed by Shakespeare. Sarbani Putatunda (2006) has also touched upon the issue of the portrayal of women by Shakespeare, along with other aspects of the comedies, but one is tempted all the more to dig deep into the portrayal of women by Shakespeare in his comedies. Cedric Watts, in his introduction to The Taming of the Shrew, has also briefly paid attention to the portrayal of women (2004). Elliot Krieger (2006), has examined almost all the major comedies from a Marxist perspective, but the critic does not focus upon the place of women in these comedies, though women in a patriarchal set up are not more than a commodity. …

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