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Much Ado About Nothing

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Autor:   •  March 29, 2011  •  1,468 Words (6 Pages)  •  953 Views

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In the Elizabethan Era, a society dominated by men, women had little input. Common rights and abilities of our time such as voting, going to school, and achieving steady jobs were impossible for the average Elizabethan woman to achieve. This disparity of power prominently appears in the works of the time period's most well-known playwright, William Shakespeare. In his Much Ado about Nothing, Beatrice, one of the most powerful women in all of Shakespeare's work, complains of feeling weak and impotent in the face of the play's overbearing men. Her sympathetic portrayal throughout Much Ado suggests Shakespeare's staunch disapproval of the traditional Elizabethan gender roles.

It is easy to understand why Beatrice feels this way toward the men in the play, the social, educational and professional opportunities for women in the Elizabethan era were quite limited, and many of the women who did manage to enter a profession usually picked a domestic service such as a maid or cook. Women were also allowed to write literature but were rarely published. Going to school was for boys only, but girls were allowed to be tutored at home. Women could not be heirs to their father's belongings or estates either; it usually was passed on to the son or brother of the father in some cases. The only exception in this law was the crown. The crown could be pasted to the daughter along with the power it holds. Women could be heiresses to the property though. (Alchin, Linda. "Elizabethan Women.")

Unable to land pleasant jobs or take control of their own lives, women back in the 1600's had only one "real" goal in life, which was to get married and bear children. Marriages were usually arranged by treaties so that each party knew what they were giving and receiving. Women did not have a say in the matter because it was their father and future husband who arranged the special day. Men usually wanted to marry the women of his choice for their father's estate, money, or business; rarely was the marriage for love, although most couples eventually grew to love each other. Childbearing was something women took much pride in and the average women had a baby every two years. (Alchin, Linda. "Elizabethan Women.")

In Shakespeare's play, Much Ado it is obvious how much more power the men have compared to the women. After Don Pedro woos Hero for Claudio, her father Leonato tells his future son-in-law, "Take of me my daughter and with her my fortune..." (Shakespeare 20). The reader can understand that during the arranged marriages, women had no say in who they wanted to marry; it was for the men in their life to decide. Furthermore, Benedick talks to Don John about Hero, a wealthy but weak woman, and compares her to a "bird's nest" implying how the men view women in the time period as property and do not care if the woman objects to a marriage. Although Shakespeare portrays the Benedick in the play as a nice free-hearted man, it seems that he too, is affected by the Elizabethan Era ways by perceiving women to only be items to fight over for more power and wealth. "The flat transgression of a school-boy, who, being overjoyed finding with a bird's nest (Hero), shows it to his companion, and he steals it." (18). It seems that men show no love and respect for the woman in the play; furthermore, it also leads me to question where the men's priorities lie. If they do not respect or love the women they are going to wed, why marry her; perhaps for the woman's money? Jameson states that "Critics have argued over whether or not Claudio in his pursuit of Hero is a fortune-seeker... [Claudio] behaves in businesslike way that an accord with Elizabethan marriage customs and a study of these customs... supports this view" (Jameson 111). Thus, the men of the play, especially Claudio, seem to consider women mere objects of their desire.

It is obvious after reading Shakespeare's literature to see that the Elizabethan Era took its toll on his work. He based Don John, the Bastard, as a rotten person, which people of this time period perceived illegitimate children to be. It seems that all the women in Much Ado are based on the common gender roles in the Elizabethan Era. Hero's life is controlled by her father, and all of the low-class women in the play are maids and cook. That is until the reader encounters the character Beatrice. Beatrice isn't portrayed as just another "mere object" of the men's desire; she is respected, listened to, and obeyed. They don't compare her to a "bird's nest" and unlike the other women; she defends herself from the men's verbal attacks and speaks freely about any subject in front of them. She manipulates Benedick into fighting his best friend Claudio, because she is unable to physically or verbally retaliate, for she is a mere woman. However, she leaves the impression on all the other characters that she is a strong, independent woman. . While Shakespeare also makes Beatrice's character loving and friendly by showing


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