How Does Shakespeare Present Attitudes to Women in Act 1 in Much Ado About Nothing

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How does Shakespeare present attitudes to women in Act 1 in Much Ado About Nothing Much Ado About Nothing shows the attitudes of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan audience to women through the two main female characters, Hero and Beatrice. Hero defines all that is expected of women at the time. She is a gentle character and the only time we hear of her in Act 1 is when she is reacting to a comment made by another, she never seems to make a comment of her own accord, exactly how a woman in these times should act. Beatrice is the cousin of Hero and the two could not be less alike. Beatrice is cynical and witty; she doesn’t conform when it comes to the role of women in Elizabethan time. In terms of how males view females, there is a theme of cuckoldry (men who married unfaithful wives). This is shown in the first scene when Leonato confirms that Hero is his daughter, ‘Her mother hath many times told me so’, a joke at her expense, implying she is unfaithful to him. In a conversation between Claudio and Benedick, they talk about Hero. Claudio asks if he ‘noted’ her, Benedick tells him he did not, but he ‘looked on her’. This conveys the attitude of only caring about a woman’s appearance. He looked at her and judged her by what he saw whereas Claudio would have judged her on a deeper level, this of course not being normal procedure for an Elizabethan man. Benedick proceeds to give his opinions on Hero (as a ‘professed tyrant’ of their sex, another example of men thinking they know everything there is to know about women). He tells Claudio she is ‘too low for a high praise, too brown and too little. If we reverse his words we can build a picture of the ideal Shakespearean woman. She must be tall and fair skinned and bigger than Hero is now. If the woman doesn’t fit these criteria (which a modern audience would see as sexist criteria) then she is not good enough, as echoed by
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