The Status of Women in Shakespeare’s Comedies Essay

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One of the persistent topics of interest in the field of Shakespeare studies is that which considers the various roles that women play in the bard’s comedies. Literary and historical scholars affirm that women did not enjoy political, economic, or social parity with men during Shakespeare’s time and this historical reality is important to keep in mind when analyzing the variety of female characters in the plays of Shakespeare. In this Shakespearean society, it was men who held exclusively the official posts of authority and power, and men who possessed the agency and influence to direct the outcome of events. Nevertheless, there is a curious trend in many of Shakespeare’s plays: many of Shakespeare’s female characters exercise a rather great deal of subtle forms of power and influence, and often do so in unusual and even subversive ways that challenge traditional gender roles. Some of the most interesting female characters in Shakespeare’s oeuvre are Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Viola and Olivia in Twelfth Night, and Gertrude, the Queen of Denmark and Hamlet’s mother, in Hamlet. Although each of these women finds herself in a social position and challenging situation that differs from the other, and though each employs a unique strategy for coping with her problems and contesting gender roles by exerting authority and influence subtly and subversively, these four women are similar in that they all insist upon their right to direct their own destinies and, at times, the destinies of others as well. Furthermore, all three of these female characters from the aforementioned plays are all quite developed and are in many ways some of the most complex characters presented in their respective plays. As literary critic Ehnenn remarks regarding the women in many of Shakespeare’s works, these characters, both in their own time and in ours, “reveal tensions and
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